Mexico's undeserved stereotype for indolence is finally being chipped away, with a new study released this week finding that Mexicans work longer days than anyone else in 29 industrialized nations studied.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Mexicans spend 10 hours a day doing both paid and unpaid work, the most of any OECD country (China, India, and South Africa were also included in the survey). Belgians, at the opposite end of the spectrum, work 7 hours daily. The OECD average is 8 hours, with Americans working about 8-1/2 hours daily.
The unpaid work includes housework or other chores. Mexicans do the most work in the home, at 3 hours a day, while Koreans do the least, at 1 hour and 19 minutes. Much of that is dedicated to cooking. Americans spend the least amount of time in the kitchen – only 30 minutes daily. The conclusions were drawn by asking those surveyed, including those retired or on vacation, to report what they were doing every five minutes.
From company advertisements to Hollywood films to TV cartoons, Mexican culture with its afternoon siesta has been stereotyped as lackadaisical and half-baked. But whether they are computer engineers, government hacks, or street vendors, most Mexicans log longer days than American doctors and Wall Street bigwigs.
Don’t buy it? Then I can offer an arsenal of anecdotal evidence, starting with myself. Years ago when I was living in Boston, a phone call after 11 p.m. was likely a friend just back from a first date. Now, as a reporter based in Mexico City, when my phone rings at that hour I assume it is Los Pinos, the White House of Mexico.
I am often invited to press conferences arranged at 10 p.m. the night before. When I seek out interviews with sources, it is not uncommon that they can only talk after 8 p.m. Happy hour at 5 p.m.? Try 10 p.m.
But for most Mexicans, such long work days are not offset with additional vacation time. Many Mexicans work in the informal economy, meaning that they have no state protection and their endless hours are the only way to make ends meet.
Even in the corporate world, vacation is more an ideal than a reality. With a good job at a Mexican company, my husband only receives seven days of vacation a year, and that is only after the first year. Yes, seven, and his work hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Labor abuse is rampant. The two doormen in our building work 24-hour shifts every other day. Once I asked one why he did not demand better conditions. “Someone else will just take the job,” he said plainly.
I am not sure where the lazy stereotype has its origins. A day’s work in Mexico is far more than an average day elsewhere, as anyone who has sat in late-night traffic jams, or witnessed a street vendor working 12-plus hours every day on the same street corner.
This is not to say Mexican work culture is particularly efficient. Part of the reason my husband works 11 hours is that he is essentially forced to take a two-hour lunch every day. Lunch at the desk is pretty much unheard of. I can recall at least a dozen times that I have waited hours for a plumber or roofer who simply did not show up.
So are Mexicans productive? Not necessarily. Punctual? Less so. But lazy? Para nada.