There are few nations in which employees work more hours per week than in the United States. But could Americans earn more money and work less if they lived abroad?
A comparison by the University of Amsterdam's WageIndicator Foundation suggests that at least for some occupations, it might indeed be more profitable to live in another country.
The foundation provided WorldViews with access to data on average wages in nearly 30 occupations in 17 countries, based on 90,000 wage observations in 2014. The 17 countries were arbitrarily chosen because the foundation was able to collect most data in those nations.
"Apart from our observations, no other data sources are available for wages by occupation and by country," research coordinator Kea Tijdens explained.
The scientists calculated the median hourly wages per country and occupation, controlling for purchasing-power parity to make the results comparable. The adjustment to purchasing-power parity is used by economists to find out how much you would have to spend in U.S. dollars on a fixed basket of goods in a foreign country. Hence, the wages shown in the charts below are adjusted to U.S. standards and are comparable to one another.
The researchers decided to exclude overtime bonuses and employer-provided services such as health insurance. They also used median hourly salaries, a unit of measurement that does not reflect additional factors such as overtime hours or income taxes.
So the results may be slight skewed in certain instances, as Tijdens pointed out: "For example, a logistics worker in the U.S. could perform different tasks from a logistics worker in Mexico, even when both identify themselves as logistics worker."
Furthermore, the average wages were surveyed among younger employees, which might explain why some of the average wages are lower than official figures provided by the country's statistical offices or labor ministries.
Keeping the limitations of the data in mind, three main conclusions can be drawn.
Jobs for which you do not necessarily need a college degree are often better paid overseas
Since the University of Amsterdam researchers started its data collection in 2001, they have continuously observed the same pattern: In the United States, "lower-skilled occupations are less profitable for employees than in other countries," Tijdens said.
Whereas Argentina has a low gross domestic product per capita of about $15,000, U.S. citizens make more than $50,000 per year on average. However, cleaners, for instance, do not benefit from the much higher average income seen among Americans: They earn about the same as those who do the same work in Argentina. Cooks are even paid better in Argentina than in the United States.
The average position of the United States in the charts shown above raises the question: Why do Americans earn so much more than citizens of other countries overall, though lower-skilled workers in the United States earn the same or even less than their foreign counterparts?
If you are highly specialized or educated, you might want to stay in the United States
"Particularly the higher-skilled occupations pay well in the U.S.," Tijdens explained. Usually, a higher-education degree is needed to successfully apply for the best-paying jobs. For instance, business and information technology consultants, software engineers, logistics workers as well as medical specialists will have trouble finding countries in which they would earn more than in the United States.
There are also some surprises: Journalists and graphics designers are better paid in the United States than in all other 17 surveyed countries. Hence, it is not only technical or scientific work that is particularly well paid in the United States.
Primary school teachers are better paid in Western Europe than in the United States
What stands out is that American primary school teachers earn less than many of their European or Argentinian counterparts. In Belgium, primary teachers earn about 60 percent more than those in the United States.
The debate about whether American teachers are underpaid is not new, but the data collected by Tijdens and her colleagues indicate that the salaries of U.S. primary teachers are certainly not among the world's highest.
INTERACTIVE: Compare different occupations
The tool below allows you to compare the hourly average salaries in 24 occupations. Given that the survey respondents tended to be younger employees, the displayed average salaries might be slightly lower than the actual figures.
To select an occupation, click on the button with the caption "Accountant" and choose one of the options. If your browser or device does not correctly display the tool, click here.
You can find more comparisons on PayWizard.org, which is the U.S. Web site of the Dutch WageIndicator Foundation.
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