The Agenda

On Vacation vs. Leisure

Ezra Klein — back from vacation, no less! — writes in re: the fact that Americans take less vacation than workers in other OECD countries:

I’d say it’s more closely related to the fact that it’s hard to pass social welfare legislation in the American political system, and thus America is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee its workers some amount of paid-vacation leave. …

That isn’t to say no one in the country gets vacation, of course. More affluent workers are able to demand paid vacation as part of their compensation package. But lots of workers aren’t, and so they really can’t afford to take vacation days, even if they’re offered. 

As UCLA historian Peter Baldwin recently observed in The New York Times indispensable Room for Debate section, however:

 

The number of public holidays in the U.S. falls at the center of the west European spectrum. In terms of the number of hours actually worked annually, the U.S. ranks only a smidgen above the O.E.C.D. average (2008 figures) and in any case below the Islanders, the Israelis, the Italians, the Greeks, not to mention most Eastern Europeans, the Japanese and the drones of the world, the South Koreans.

Americans may work longer at the job, but the corollary is they also work less at home. The contrast is most notable for women. Figures from time diary studies in the 1990s reveal that European women worked almost 10 hours more doing housework than their American counterparts, who spent most of that time in formal work. American families relied instead on paid labor and services to accomplish the domestic tasks that wives still perform in Europe. Add formal and domestic work together, and the differences in total work are much less stark than usually presented.

It’s true that American have fewer paid vacations and paid holidays. But the top 80 to 90 percent of U.S. households have more disposable income than their counterparts in the vast majority of OECD economies. Paid vacation is best understood as a form of non-cash compensation. It’s not obvious that we should collectively choose more paid vacation over more pay, and the lack of mandatory paid-vacation gives employers and employees more flexibility to choose an arrangement that works for them.

To be sure, paid-vacation requirements create a network effect that can spur the development of the tourism and hospitality industry. Given that many European economies rely heavily on this industry, particularly countries in the Mediterranean rim, perhaps we can view mandatory paid-vacation as a kind of industrial policy. I don’t personally see the logic in transferring wealth to the budget travel and hotel and car rental sectors, though I can see why Ryanair executives might feel differently. 

We also have good reason to believe that lower marginal tax rates are a big part of the reason that U.S. workers work longer hours, particularly more affluent workers. And U.S. workers tend to less housework because our lightly regulated labor markets facilitate the outsourcing of household labor to less-skilled workers, many of whom are foreign-born.

Overall, I’d say it’s at the very least a fair trade. 

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Yes, They Are Coming for Your Guns

At the Democratic-primary debate in Houston last night, Beto O’Rourke formally killed off one of the gun-control movement’s favorite taunts: The famous “Nobody is coming for your guns, wingnut.” Asked bluntly whether he was proposing confiscation, O’Rourke abandoned the disingenuous euphemisms that have ... Read More
White House

Politico Doubles Down on Fake Turnberry Scandal

It's tough to be an investigative reporter. Everybody who feeds you a tip has an axe to grind. Or, alternatively, you find yourself going, "I wonder if . . . ?" You put in your research, you talk to lots of people, you accumulate a huge pile of information, but you still haven't proved your hypothesis. A wise ... Read More
White House

Rachel Maddow’s Turnberry Tale

To a certain kind of Rachel Maddow viewer, there are few more titillating preludes to a news segment than the one she delivered Monday: “If you have not seen it yet, you are going to want to sit down.” Maddow’s story began, as many of her stories do, with President Trump, this time focused on his hotel ... Read More
Culture

Four Cheers for Incandescent Light Bulbs

It brought me much -- indeed, too much -- joy to hear of the Trump administration's rollback of restrictions on incandescent light bulbs, even if the ban will remain in place. The LED bulbs are terrible. They give off a pitiable, dim, and altogether underwhelming "glow," one that never matched the raw (if ... Read More