Does culture affect work ethic? In other words, is it culture that produces societies that seem to be more "laid back" or more "driven"? Or is it some other factor? Based on my living in north and south America and also my travels across north America and most of Europe. Here in my opinion and observation.
I think work ethic has something to do with geography and climate. Since we have all "evolved" around farming, I think that farming (and all the related activities like planting, harvesting, etc...) is a big factor. Northern European cultures tend to be more productive and driven while southern European cultures seem to be more laid back. This makes sense in that it takes much more work to survive in colder climates. In northern Europe the farming season is shorter because of frost and snow. You don't have the luxury of taking it easy. Thus societies in colder regions tend to be more driven (in my opinion and observation). Societies closer to the equator tend to be more laid back. The farming season lasts longer and there is not as great an urgency to get things done (you can take your time harvesting because frost and snow is not necessarily a factor). You can also see this in the U.S. where the south is much more laid back then the north.
What about South America? I think South America reflects a bit of the influence of geography and climate, but it also reflects the huge influence of colonization. I have noticed that the culture in south American countries tend to be like the cultures that colonized them (Argentina like the Spaniards, and Brazil like the Portuguese). I have also notice that the colder the climate, the harder working the population tends to be.
What about Africa and the middle east? I am not sure in these areas since I have not spent any time in the area. I suspect though that climate, geography, and colonization have had their effects. I also think that maybe religion has been an influence as well.
What about Asia? I think there is a different influence in this area and it has to do with farming rice. Cultures that are dependent on rice tend to be harder working than those that don't because rice is very labor intensive and hard to farm. I think that is why you see countries that are closer to the equator in Asia still have a harder working ethic than say European countries that are closer to the equator (or the southern area of the U.S.)
Does that make one culture better than another? No, in no way! it just accounts for some of the differences. Also, cultures are not monolithic. Though some may be more driven or hard working than others, that does not mean every person and that culture is. I also think that each individual also has their own work ethic (or maybe it would be better to call it work style). For example, my wife has a very driven work style. I on the other hand seem to be much more laid back (or lazy as my kids tend to remind me).