Japanese workers earn an average of $42,000 a year but suffer in the quality of living because they work longer hours and pay heftier costs for housing than their counterparts in the West, the government said Friday.

A 534-page annual "white paper" issued by the Labor Ministry said Japan leads the world in average wages as well as in personal savings, which amount to an average $63,000 for each of the 60.8 million workers.The Labor Ministry report confirmed Japan's reputation as a nation of "workaholics" with little time for play, saying the average employee works 2,150 hours a year, compared with 1,924 hours in the United States, 1,938 hours in Britain, 1,655 hours in West Germany and 1,643 hours in France.

It said the Japanese worker also spends more time commuting to work than do Western counterparts, with 13.7 percent of the work force spending an hour or more going to and from their jobs, compared with 6 percent in the United States, 3 percent in West Germany and 2 percent in Belgium.

The report concluded that Japan - whose rapid post-war rise from a poor nation scarce in natural resources to an economic superpower has been dubbed a miracle - needs to help improve the living quality of its workers.

The report called for a reduction in working hours to "bring about a comfortable lifestyle."

It also recommended setting aside more land for housing in Tokyo, which has the world's highest real estate costs, and coaxing corporations to move to outlying areas while providing more low-cost rental accommodations.

Japanese workers age 55 or older accounted for 18.9 percent of the work force of about 60.8 million in 1987.