Siesta? What siesta? Mexican work longest hours in world

MEXICO CITY — When the news was announced that Mexicans work longer days than anyone else in the world, many people here were too busy to notice.

“Really?” Marcelo Barrales said, “the longest?”

Barrales works as a doorman at an apartment house, a waiter at a seafood joint and a driver of a delivery van, and he moonlights on Sundays selling cellphone chargers.

But he was still skeptical: “We work harder than the Japanese?”

An excellent point. According to a report issued last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mexicans devote an average of 10 hours per day to paid and unpaid work, such as housework.

The Belgians — bless them — work the least. About seven hours.

The Japanese, followed by the South Koreans and Chinese, work the most paid hours in a day, though they devote fewer hours to unpaid work, such as cooking, cleaning, caring and shopping for the household. Americans fall in the middle, though they spend the least time cooking (30 minutes), especially compared with the Turks, who put in 74 minutes at the stove. OECD members include much of the developed world, alongside still-developing nations such as Mexico, India, China and South Africa.

When the OECD report made the news here, and quickly became the subject of talk radio in the capital, many Mexicans agreed it was finally time to put the stereotype of the “manana” culture to bed. If many people think of the Japanese doing jumping jacks at Toyota plants, the popular image of Mexico has been that of the sleepy campesino in his sombrero taking a siesta.

“How did we acquire that picture of the lazybones snoozing under the cactus?” said Guadalupe Loaeza, a columnist for Reforma newspaper and author of books about the foibles of Mexico’s rich and famous. “We know that life is hard every day in our country. That you cannot work one job. You have to have three. You have to work even on the weekends.”

“This information is not at all surprising,” said Luis Rubio, president of the Center of Research for Development. “Mexicans are always willing, capable and flexible.”

Indeed, Mexicans manufacture many of the cars, televisions and refrigerators that Americans rely on.

But Rubio and other economists said revelations of such hard work by Mexicans is not really good news — rather it is a symptom of underdevelopment and inefficiencies.

“The environment in which they work tends to demand more work, more hassle and more complexity to arrive at a similar result,” Rubio said. “In other words, productivity is lower in Mexico because there are so many obstacles to efficient work,” such as the mountains of red tape produced by a sprawling government and corporate bureaucracy.

For example, opening a checking account here takes weeks and a dozen trips to the bank; waiting rooms at public health clinics fill the minute the doors open; and callers to Mexico’s cellphone carrier can be put on hold for hours.

Mexican workers mostly agree with the economists. “We work like crazy, but it is never enough. We shouldn’t be proud of this fact,” said Oscar Gonzalez Victoria, who was delivering handbills door-to-door but said he mostly works installing tile and wood floors.

Mexico is the 14th-largest economy in the world, based on gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and is home to the world’s richest man, the tycoon Carlos Slim, whose telephone empire faces a $1 billion fine over alleged monopolistic practices. Although the middle class has been growing, almost half the population still lives in poverty, and although official unemployment is low, many people working in the informal economy are not counted.

“Mexicans need to work more than people in more developed economies. Mexican households have parents who are at least 30 percent less educated than households in developed countries,” said Armando Chacon, a director at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness. “The less skills and knowledge people have on average, the less productive their time is.”

So coming in first place in this contest might not be a win.

Researcher Gabriela Martinez contributed to this report.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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