Why have West Europeans opted for shorter working days, weeks, months, years and lives? This is where Weber's thesis comes up trumps: the countries where the least work is done in Europe turn out to be those that were once predominantly Protestant. While the overwhelmingly Catholic French and Italians work about 15 to 20 percent fewer hours a year than Americans, the more Protestant Germans and Dutch and the wholly Protestant Norwegians work 25 to 30 percent less.
What clinches the Weber thesis is that Northern Europe's declines in working hours coincide almost exactly with steep declines in religious observance. In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark, less than 10 percent of the population now attend church at least once a month, a dramatic decline since the 1960's. (Only in Catholic Italy and Ireland do more than a third of the population go to church on a monthly basis.) In the recent Gallup Millennium Survey of religious attitudes, 49 percent of Danes, 52 percent of Norwegians and 55 percent of Swedes said God did not matter to them. In North America, by comparison, 82 percent of respondents said God was "very important."
So the decline of work in Northern Europe has occurred more or less simultaneously with the decline of Protestantism. Quod erat demonstrandum indeed!