Most of this is conjecture. What’s not conjecture are our laws and institutions, which — compared with those of other wealthy societies — devalue and de-emphasize vacations. A fascinating report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a left-leaning think tank, illuminates the vast differences. Here’s how the report, “No-Vacation Nation Revisited,” summarizes them:
“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries.”
Counting mandated paid holidays, workers in Germany, France and Britain receive roughly six weeks of time off, reports the CEPR. There are many variations among nations as to when vacations must be taken, how much employers control vacation periods, and who qualifies and who doesn’t. In Norway, workers older than 60 get an extra week, says the CEPR report. By contrast, four European countries (Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland) provide extra paid leave for younger workers.
The United States’ decisions are decentralized. Vacations and paid holidays are set by companies, union agreements, school systems, states, the federal government and all other manner of employers. In general, our vacations are shorter than those elsewhere. About 90 percent of full-time employees get vacations that average (with paid holidays) about four weeks, according to government figures cited in the CEPR report. For part-time workers, about 35 percent to 40 percent receive paid time off. Not surprisingly, low-wage workers fare the worst. Only about half of the poorest-paid 25 percent receive paid time off.
There’s a cultural gap between the United States and other wealthy societies. They’ve chosen to take a larger share of their prosperity as extra leisure. We’ve skimped. Economist Timothy Taylor (whose useful Web site, the Conversable Economist, featured the CEPR study) points out that Americans work longer than workers in other advanced societies. In 2011, the average was 1,787 hours a year, 26 percent more than Germans (1,413 hours), 21 percent more than the French (1,476) and 3 percent more than the Japanese (1,728).