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Americans work the longest hours in the industrialized world, overtaking the Japanese, according to a United Nations study released today.

But the U.S. lead in productivity is being whittled away by their European and Japanese rivals, who are working less while Americans stay on the job more, said the report by the International Labor Organization.

Hard-working Americans run a risk of burning out, said the organization's Lawrence Jeff Johnson, co-author of the 600-page report "Key Indicators of the Labor Market." The report was based on figures covering the years 1980-1997.

On average, U.S. workers recorded 1,966 hours at work in the most recent year, according to the study. In 1980, the average was 1,883 hours.

The Japanese were their nearest rivals. They worked an average of 1,889 hours in 1995, the most recent year measured, but have been spending less and less time on the job since recording more than 2,100 hours in 1980.

The study found that U.S. workers first surpassed the Japanese in 1993.

While U.S. labor productivity surged 20 percent from 1980 to 1996, Japan moved ahead by 38 percent, Johnson said.

"While the benefits of hard work are clear, it is not at all clear that working more is the same thing as working better," said Juan Somavia, director-general of the organization.

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