February 24th, 2014
03:24 PM ET

Should Spain rethink its late night lifestyle?

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By Global Public Square staff

Last week, Jimmy Fallon took over as host of “The Tonight Show.” More than 11 million Americans tuned in at midnight to watch his debut – that's about 3.5 percent of the population.

Americans love their late night TV. But there's one country that loves it even more: Spain. An estimated 25 percent of Spaniards are up watching TV at midnight, according to Jim Yardley in a great piece in the New York Times.

And it’s not just TV – staying up late is part of the culture. Restaurants rarely serve dinner until after 10 p.m. According to one survey, Spaniards sleep on average 53 minutes less than other Europeans. During the day, Spaniards are known for taking long lunches and breaks – and of course, siestas.

Well, a number of Spanish economists are saying this needs to stop. By some accounts, Spain loses 8 percent of its GDP to reduced productivity. So, what can be done? One suggestion is that Spain should turn its clocks back.

Take a look at the map in the video. On Greenwich Mean Time you have countries like the U.K., of course, but also Portugal and Ireland. Spain falls in pretty much the same longitudinal range. But Spain is actually an hour ahead of England, along with France, Germany, Poland, and many other Central European countries.

It wasn't always so. Before World War II, Spain kept the same time as Britain. But during the war, when Hitler sought to gain Spain's support, the Spanish dictator Franco moved to align his country's clocks with those of Germany's. Seven decades later that remains the case, despite Spain's geographic location.

Economists say that turning the clocks back would make Spaniards more productive and boost the economy. It's an interesting thesis – and we don't know if it would work. But the good news is that Spaniards are thinking hard about improving their economy.

We tend to think of Spain as a European basket case. Unemployment is at 26 percent, while youth unemployment is double that. Every second person between the age of 18 and 25 is out of a job. Spain has been in a recession for several years. The eurozone has had to bail it out so that it could avoid defaulting.

But beyond those headlines, there is now some good news.

After years of recession, GDP has finally begun to grow: by 0.3 percent in the last quarter. Economists predict double that rate in 2014. Exports grew nearly 6 percent last year, and will grow by that amount once again this year. Spain's main stock market is up by a third since June. Foreign investors are back – even Bill Gates bought a $150 million stake in a Spanish construction firm.

What's changed? Well, Spain has been willing to take its medicine and put in place some tough economic reforms. Both the public and private sectors have become leaner and more efficient. In the face of stiff opposition, Madrid has raised the retirement age; it's tweaked the rules to make jobs more flexible. Companies can now hire and fire more easily. Spain's relative labor costs have declined steadily – even as those of Germany, France, and Italy have risen. All of these measures have made Spain more competitive, boosting exports. Growth is bringing in tax revenues and stabilizing the country's finances.

But Madrid can and should do more. Spain's revenue from taxes (as a fraction of total GDP) remains among the lowest in all of Europe. And the greatest challenge remains unemployment – especially youth unemployment. If Spain can't create jobs, an entire generation of Spaniards will be lost.

European countries have accepted painful austerity measures, but what they really needed were structural reforms. It’s not clear if turning the clocks back will make much of a dent. But if it sparks a conversation about productivity in general, it is high time.

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Topics: Economy • Spain • What in the World?

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Jerry Okamura

    If you don't need to work to survive and you can even live a halfway decent life, why should you work?

    February 24, 2014 at 3:43 pm |
  2. matslats

    You just hate them because they know how to enjoy themselves.
    Talking about the 'economy' is just a way to call the slaves back to work.

    February 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm |
  3. chrissy

    Lol @ Jerry, youre talking about "Utopia" which is really a fictional piace.

    February 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm |
  4. JAL

    I wandered through an area with a vibrant night life recently to quickly get some to-go dinner. It was hilarious. As long as everyone acknowledges it is a youth phase, I say party-on.

    February 24, 2014 at 4:26 pm |
    • JAL

      If you want to laugh: the next time you have any layover in a large airport, go get a meal at one of the bars that serves food, but don't drink any alcohol. Watch the quick and standard situation over and over: Folks come in, have a few drinks, bring the stress venting right near the point of disorderly, then they disappear, and a new group comes in to repeat the cycle. So Funny!

      February 24, 2014 at 4:32 pm |
  5. chrissy

    Lol @ JAL, yes ive seen that. Its definitely an eye opener on reasons NOT to drink isnt it?

    February 24, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
  6. sixthromeo

    The young drunks are out after 11PM to begin their parties. How is this any different than the USA? The difference being: in the USA if the young are going to nap, it is before they get ready to go out in the late evening; not in the middle of the day. The concept of Spain's siesta is production destructive. Employees have no energy for quality production on returning from filling their stomachs, binge drinking and napping. Spain never deserved the "siesta" concept, did they import it from Tampa?

    February 24, 2014 at 7:00 pm |
  7. j. von hettlingen

    Sleep researchers say we humans need two sleeps a day: a long one and a short one. A nap in the afternoon helps to ease stress. Yet a Spanish siesta is excessive. A long nap is counter productive, as one can wake up having a thick head the rest of the day.

    February 25, 2014 at 5:49 am |
  8. Mich

    I live in Spain and the spanish usually only siesta in the months of July and August, as do our neighbours. The lunch break is long, about two and a half hours but they work until 8 o'clock at night. Those spaniards who work in bars and restaurants work from about 11am until midnight or later. Even those who work in agriculture start at 7am in winter and 6am in summer, stop at 2pm, then start again at 4pm and work until 8 or 9, when they harvest even later. You don´t see spanish falling over drunk in the street or anywhere else for that matter. That is usually the Brits.

    February 25, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  9. orballo

    I am originally from Spain but I have lived for many years in the USA. My father el start his work day at 6:30 am break for lunch 1:30 to 3:30 pm and back at work from 3:30 to 7:30 pm. He will get home at 8 and we will eat dinner immediately after his arrival. This was the schedule of my family and most other families where I grew up.
    Also, when I go to Spain now,. I usually eat dinner on restaurants at 7;30 pm. So in summary CNN " great " reporting.....

    February 25, 2014 at 9:09 pm |
  10. rosa

    I live in Phoenix, AZ, we do not turn back our clocks but the cable TV does. Fall/Winter and our late night shows are on one hour later. Spring/Summer reasonable time. It makes a huge difference that one hour. We are much more productive with all the late night shows starting at 11pm instead of midnight. Turn back the clocks in Spain, it'll work!

    February 25, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
  11. Kate f

    Wish people like you would keep your nose out of Spain and your comments of the Spanish lifestyle to yourself. Here in spai. We have a great life and think you are just jealous. Siesta is part of the culture and if the rest of the world did thes a e they may have a different out,ook on life. How dare you make such comme ts Sir. Cannot live without my siesta like the rest if the Spanish people......keep your nose out of our business! People the world over would be in far better humour and more creative if they followed the soanish lifesfyle. Keep hour comme ts to yourself.......

    February 26, 2014 at 2:42 am |
  12. chrissy

    Lol @ kate! "mind your own business" doesnt mean much to most people here. If it did there would be alot less problems and children would be more respectful and better behaved right?

    February 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm |
  13. ariely shein

    I have a strange idea!
    What about people worldwide are learning for the Spaniards some ideas for a happier life and implement those ideas on their daily life?
    What about teams of philosophers, politician, work unions and capitalist to start a systematic process of corrections actions in the global economy focusing on people happiness and not only making more money?

    The balance between people happiness needs and modern global economy demands is still to be founded.
    For the time being the economy of the greedy capitalism has the upper end.

    The economy activities should provide human needs and making people happy.
    Working hard to increase economic profits doesn't make people happier and doesn't
    help to basics human needs such as people's time to their family and an increasing unemployment rate.

    What are the results of the last 20 years of Global economy as implemented?
    People in west countries are losing social benefits they fought for the last 200 years.
    They are demanded to work as it was before 1910- Modern slave.

    The global economy is a good idea with a bed implementation.

    February 28, 2014 at 1:33 am |
  14. Luis

    I lived for more than 30 years in Spain and apart from some regions in the south during summer I seldom encountered anyone taking long or short siestas after lunch. I now live in the US and, frankly speaking, that the author says that here people normally think of Spain as an economic basket case simply makes me laugh. There are more homeless and beggars in NY than in the whole of Spain. Spaniards have one of the best public health systems in the world and some of the best infrastructures ( to compare the pitiful state of the metro lines and train tracks in the US with those in Spain is just a way to see how the US is in many respects the basket case). And also, Spain was not bail out during the euro crisis, only parts of the financial sector and to an amount which is in relative terms much smaller to the massive bail outs that took place in the US or the UK.

    March 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm |
  15. Mercy

    I visited Spain last summer, and something that did surprise me is that they have "summer" working hours. They only work half day in the summer! They say because it is terribly hot, which it is, especially in August. But, I don't know of any other country which has that system. And also, in the month of August, practically all the Spanish take the month off for vacation. I saw many signs up on different businesses saying they are closed for the month of August. I just ask myself, how are they going to improve their economy like that? Spain is a very beautiful country and I enjoyed my stay there. The food was delicious, but I think the Spanish really need to think about their economy and try to change a bit.

    March 10, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
  16. Eddie Fonseca

    Javier Ruibal and Antonio Carmona two of Spain's international flamenco guitarist's who song's can be heard on radio stations across Spain and America, which have been a delight to enjoy and listen to from the young and old flamenco listeners who have enjoyed both these flamenco artists work for many years. Spain has been a nation which has been known for it's excellent health care system, and fantastic transit system which rivals the New York subway system. Spain has been a country which is rich in history from their religious beliefs and great museums which showcase the great artworks of modern artists in Spain. Spain was the only economy that did not require a much of a bail out like the United States of America during the world wide global recession, the only thing that Spain required was some bail out money for their financial sector which was less then most countries. As Americans we like to think of the Spaniards people who love their little siestas after lunch, but what we don't realize is that just a myth like how all Americans are seen to the rest of the world like cowboy's from the Wild West television shows. Without traveling to Spain and experiencing the true culture of Spain, will we as Americans have a stereotypical viewpoint that Spain is only is good for producing the greatest soccer team in the world and having long afternoon siestas, either by relaxing by the beach with a good book or spending time with amigos over a glass of red wine in a local pub for years to come.

    September 3, 2014 at 11:13 pm |

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