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Our Overwork Has a Steep Price Tag

Americans are working longer weeks than ever. The Center for American Progress reports that 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women now work more than 40 hours a week. They are skipping vacations to boot. After 10 years of service, the average German gets 20 days of paid vacation, the English, 28, and the Finns, 30. Americans? Fifteen days—and we're not even taking them.

Add to that how many Americans check work e-mail at home and during the weekend … [and] it's not hard to imagine the toll this takes on family and one's personal life. The upside to all this work is healthy growth in U.S. productivity, which potentially helps businesses increase profits and raise wages. But the downsides are many.

A 2004 review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that in 16 of 22 studies, working overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. Two recent studies have linked long work hours to a higher risk of depression. One of them, in the June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sampled 10,000 people and showed higher levels of anxiety and depression in those who put in the most overtime. As for the effects on those close to us, in a 2007 American Psychological Association study, 52 percent of employees reported that their job demands interfered with their family or home responsibilities.

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