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Individualism, self-reliance influence high U.S. WFH rate

A new study suggests that America's high work-from-home rates, especially among college-educated men, are influenced by the cultural values of individualism and self-reliance.

The U.S. boasts some of the highest work-from-home rates in the industrialized world, particularly among college-educated men. A new study suggested that this trend could be rooted in America's longstanding cultural values of individualism and self-reliance.

Researchers from universities in the U.S. and Europe discovered that cultural individualism is the strongest predictor of variations in WFH rates among the 34 industrialized countries examined, according to Pablo Zarate, a doctoral student in economics at Princeton University and the study's lead author.

The study, "Why Does Working From Home Vary Across Countries and People?" published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), involved economics researchers from Princeton, Stanford University, the IFO Institute at the University of Munich and other institutions.

According to the research, the U.S. has the highest individualism score among the nations studied. Individualism, which emphasizes personal autonomy, independence and self-reliance, was measured using an index based on the work by Dutch researcher Gerard Hofstede.

The individualism index "measures the extent to which individuals in a society prioritize their own ambitions and independence above the collective goals and unity of the group," the paper explains.

Among U.S. college graduates, men recorded the highest WFH rates, averaging 1.95 days per week. This rate is slightly higher than in other nations, such as Canada and the U.K. In contrast, U.S. women worked from home about 1.6 days per week. Overall, when considering all respondents regardless of gender and education level, Canada ranked first in WFH rates.

Hybrid work arrangements continue to dominate office life in the U.S. The Partnership for New York City, a business group representing 330 companies, surveyed more than 130 Manhattan employers and found that 60% maintain a hybrid schedule, according to new data released Wednesday. In addition, 34% have a mix of hybrid, remote and full-time office schedules, while only 5% require daily in-office attendance for all employees. Only 1% of survey takers reported being fully remote.

The Partnership's survey data also found that of companies with more than 5,000 employees, 55% of workers are in the office on an average weekday. But it also found a trend toward increased office attendance, noting that 30% of employers surveyed have increased their in-office requirements.

Other factors influencing WFH rates include population density and industries with high concentrations of knowledge workers, such as tech. Based on 2020 election data, the NBER study also found a correlation between WFH rates and support for President Joe Biden. Blue voters who live in population centers with many knowledge-based industries exhibited higher WFH rates, it found.

However, Zarate noted that the link between Biden supporters and WFH rates could be stronger. "It could be that Biden supporters are more likely to explore alternative work arrangements, such as WFH, or that they are concentrated in knowledge-based industries or large urban areas, or possibly both," he said.

Patrick Thibodeau is an editor at large for TechTarget Editorial who covers HCM and ERP technologies. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

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