The decline of the week-long vacation (America fact of the day)

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations.

Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

That is from Evan Soltas, there is more here.  And Evan offers a bit more here.


I do wonder about the lack of vacation time for USA'ers.

All sorts of regular people get four to six weeks off a year in Europe. What is really annoying is that their food is better and their medical care evidently as effective. Their cities are nicer too.

10 days off a year is not enough, and that seems to be the norm in the USA.

Would you rather live in Vienna or Phoenix?

The EU countries are also fiscally insolvent.

Euro-area deficit as a fraction of GDP are smaller then the US's.

The trick is to keep state promises off budget. Much bigger problem in Europe.

Last I checked US debt / gdp stood at 101% vs 92% in EZ. Whether this matters when we take vacations is another question.

'The EU countries are also fiscally insolvent.'

I recognize that not everyone is a loyal reader, so forgive the repeat - 'Germany reduced its roughly 2 trillion euros of public debt last year for the first time since post-war records began in 1950, helped by the reduction of toxic assets in government-run bad banks, the Statistics Office said on Thursday.

The combined debts of the federal government, the 16 federal states and local authorities plus social security fell by 1.5 percent, or 30.3 billion euros. That leaves the overall debt burden in Europe’s biggest economy at 2.04 trillion euros.

The strongest decrease, 5.2 percent, was in the area of social security, said the Statistics Office.

Federal and state government debts had been eased because toxic assets that came from state-owned banks Hypo Real Estate and WestLB were off-loaded. These assets were parked in so-called bad banks during the global financial crisis.

At the federal level, Germany is aiming to have no new borrowing next year. Low employment and steady growth have generated record tax revenues while rock-bottom interest rates have reduced the burden of servicing Germany’s 1.3 trillion euros of federal debt.'

Too bad Germany is not the norm. Most EU countries lack Germany's economic dynamic and have much harder time reforming their fat states.

But I don't think a reduction of vacation days will instantly make Portugal or Greece more competitive...

Fine, so move to Berlin, one of the most livable cities in Europe. All the vacation days plus dynamite.

>The EU countries are also fiscally insolvent.

...and completely dependent on free-riding off the US.

And three weeks is the norm for professional US workers. After five years at my job, I got four.

'…and completely dependent on free-riding off the US.'

Which is why the U.S. is the world's largest importer, right?

Or if one wants to just restrict the American trade figures to the EU, here is figure relating to the period between January and June, 2014 -


But then, Europe is a socialist hellhole, compared to the free market paradise that is the U.S. Which undoubtedly explains why that the American/EU trade deficit over a decade comes to a cool trillion dollars or so.

Hmm, but can you answer the puzzle of why Europe invests so much more in the U.S. than vice versa? The EU/American investment deficit over a decade comes to a cool trillion dollars or so...

So Europe freeloads off of US defense and healthcare expenditure, and somehow the fact that the US buys stuff on-net from Europe makes it all a wash? Got-it. The Europeans are totally self-sufficient...

"Which is why the U.S. is the world’s largest importer, right?" - as someone once said, exports are the price we pay for imports. So exports in themselves are not good or bad. To take an extreme example, you can be a very successful exporter by paying workers low wages. German consumption lags the UK for instance by 10%, and has done for many many years. The median German household is poorer than in Greece and Italy. When are the Germans going to get to enjoy their consumer boom? Chauvinists have never understood that the benefits of a strong state go to the politicians and ruling classes, not to the workers. Boasting about how well your country does in exports is like boasting about how rich your boss is.

as distinct from......?

Depends on the country. And besides- the U.S. isn't?

On paper. Not on the streets.

Something to think about when making this comparison between the US and Europe:

Earlier this year, [32 year old] Ms. Domingo landed her first permanent contract—part time, working evenings at a hospital radiology department for less than €1,000, or about $1,350, a month. She sobbed so hard for joy when she called her boyfriend with the news that he thought something terrible had happened, she said.

And of course, not all of Europe is Spain, Italy or Greece. But it isn't all Vienna either (whose average high temp is below 70 for all but 3 months out of the year). There are trade-offs to living in both.

True that. Trade-offs, trade-offs. We don't have high temperatures everywhere, but we also don't gun down black youths on the streets every year.

And we don't have riots with hundreds of immigrants burning thousands of cars.
(one of which was started by the death of a kid running from the police)

Yep - and you don't have the head of the American equivalent of the interior ministry (and thus in charge of the police) calling protestors 'racaille' ('scum') either.

So, good for America?

I might be wary passing a Temple, tho.

I guess you don't have enough other black youths to do the gunning down?

Hell, as noted on this very blog, German police shot a total of 85 bullets at people over a year (2011) - that's right, the number of total bullets shot by police at a person comes to an average of about one bullet per million citizens per year.

No wonder Germans feel such anxiety about public safety - why, German police don't even apparently know how to point sniper rifles at unarmed demonstrators from on top of armored vehicles.

Or to put that anxiety it into another perspective - one American police officer in one town managed to shoot around 10% of all the bullets used by all police in all of Germany in 2011. And he managed to do it against an unarmed suspect. I'm sure that when Piaget Crenshaw's video is finally played to the public by the proper authorities we will all be able to make up our own minds about American police tactics.

I didn't think I'd see a literal one of these, ever.

>Would you rather live in Vienna or Phoenix?

Well, personally I would choose Phoenix but I believe the market disagrees. Here is what you can get for about $1M in Vienna:

a 1400 sq ft. 2 bdrm condo. Here is what you can get for around the same price in Phoenix:

a 6850 sq ft McMansion with 6 bdrms, and weird fire bowls on either side of the infinity pool. Clearly the ambiance of Vienna is a lot more valuable than the ambiance of Phoenix. Equally clearly, the average Viennese is living a bit of different lifestyle than the average Phoenecian. Once you live in a place like the one in Phoenix, the thought of cramming your family into a 2-bedroom hotel suite for a week loses a lot of its appeal.

Yeah, but step outside your house and you're still in Phoenix. However, if you only want to live inside your home, then Phoenix wins hands down.

Most people who live in Phoenix or places like Phoenix DO only want to live inside their home. Why do you think so many dull suburbs exist in the USA (and elsewhere too)? There's a significant number of people who simply aren't much interested in leaving their house.

What if you want live half inside your home and half outside? Phoenix wins on the inside half, Vienna on the outside half. Point being: you can't ignore either facet (affordability of housing and overall "quality" of environment) when comparing one city vs. another. If the difference in affordability in housing is slight then I probably go with the city that has a higher overall "quality" of environment (taking into account things like crime, weather, cultural capital, attractiveness, etc.). If the difference in quality of environment is slight but the difference in affordability of housing is extreme then maybe I choose the city with more affordable housing.

In the case of Phoenix vs. Vienna you have an extreme difference in both categories. For someone who isn't limited by finances it's clearly Vienna by a landslide. If you're not ultra-rich, though, maybe Phoenix comes out on top. Most families can't afford a $1M home. What does $500k get you in Vienna? $200k? Etc.

Intentionally misleading comparison. You chose a "Phoenix" property that is 22 miles away from the actual Phoenix city centre, without any public transport or other amenities in the vicinity. You compared it to a penthouse in a historic city centre, seconds from public transport, churches, universities, stores etc.

If a Viennese wanted to live away from everything, he could buy/build an equally sprawly 6-bedroom farm house in a village 20-30 miles from the Viennese city for that price. And he could even afford the electricity bill, not having to run air-con 24/7 half the year.

>>If a Viennese wanted to live away from everything, he could buy/build an equally sprawly 6-bedroom farm house in a village 20-30 miles from the Viennese city for that price.

I doubt this...

I disagree. It is a fair comparison because 20ish miles from downtown, without public transit, and without much in the way of free public amenities is pretty much normal. It describes my neighborhood perfectly. If I were going to live in Vienna for a year, I would be going to enjoy the culture, so would be looking for -- and utterly unable to afford -- the kind of place in the comparison.

Max L.

Where would you rather live Portland or Hamburg? Miami Beach or Brussels? Santa Barbara or Bristol? Austin or Marseilles? Naples, Italy or Naples, Florida?

Provincial Americans only think Europe is "tres nice", because no one's going to plan a vacation going to the massive number of shitholes that can be found all over the continent. If you take the top 10% of nice zip codes in Europe they're really nice, but the same can be said about America. Probably more so, because inequality is higher here, and the nicest zip codes are really nice.

But forget Europe, if we're picking places to emulate based on the quality of their food, their life expectancies, and the cleanliness and vibrancy of their cities, every East Asian country blows Europe out of the water. Seoul's far more impressive, prettier, cleaner, safer, more interesting, has better (and cheaper) food, and has more to do at all hours of the day than any European capital. And the bigger difference compared to virtually everywhere in Europe is that if you take the (very efficient) metro to the suburbs, the quality of the neighborhoods don't rapidly decay.

All sorts of regular people get four to six weeks off a year in Europe.

How do very small business deal with that?

Perhaps this is due to the more common dual-income household today. Harder to coordinate a week off when both spouses work.

Isn't this a product of cheap air fares. It used to be that the family pilled into a car drove across several states and visited relatives. With a days travel each direction, staying for a week makes sense. Now a flight is a few hundred dollars and makes it easy to take one-two days + a long weekend. The fact that the numbers go down during air fare deregulation supports this theory.

The specific metric is a week long vacation which is distinct from just any vacation.

Easily one of the stupidest comments I have ever seen.

Air fares are getting cheaper everywhere, not just in the U.S., and long vacations are in decline in the U.S., not elsewhere.

Many people who go on vacations don't go to visit relatives for 1-2 days--they stay in hotels and go sightseeing or lay on a beach.

I just...I don't know anymore.

You are an ass.

I hadn't laughed enough today, glad I didn't miss that.

Where's your evidence that air fare is getting cheaper everywhere? I have never taken a trip from Vienna to Warsaw and do not know the historical rates. I also don't know how many European families take vacation via plane, as opposed to via rail. And comparing to rapidly developing Asian nations does not make sense.

I assume you've never left America. Go do some reading on RyanAir, Air Asia, and the growth of budget airlines in Europe in the 1990s/2000s and in Asia in the 2010s.

Flights are cheaper than train rides in most of Europe and has been since the 1990s. Again, this is pretty common knowledge in Europe.

Yep, I am not doing your research for you.

Why do research - Ryanair has a web site after all - (Though Ryanair is pretty scummy all round, it can be really cheap to fly with).

One should notice that Europe is a very small place. You go from Madrid to Paris in 1 hour or from Frankfurt to London in less than that... and once competition is high, airfares in Europe are fairly cheap. Last summer I paid 145 euros for a last minute round-trip from Lisbon to Brussels and I could have paid less than 90 euros if I bought the ticket 20 days before...

I suppose your comments might be improved if you read them yourself.

Cheap airfares? Doubt it. Airfares are still outrageously expensive, and non-business air travel is still a luxury only the rich can afford. To the extent that the non-rich can afford to travel at all, they do it by piling into cars the old-fashioned way.

What the hell? Airfares are at record lows. And only the "rich" can afford to fly? Have you ever been on a plane?

According to there have been 649 million enplaned passengers in 2014. That's a lot of rich folks.

That suggests 200% of America's population is the 1%.

I recall after 9/11 and the plane groundings, a comment was made we had 35 million departures a day.

Yeah man airfares are probably nominally less expensive than they were in the 70s and the dollar is worth way less. This is just ignant.

How many hours of work at minimum wage to by a return flight from Chicago, NY, LA to Havana or Paris in 1970 compared to today?

i agree with the gist of this, but not limited to air fares. When I was a kid, it was huge deal to drive the car any distance. Now we will drive 500 miles one way over a long weekend at the drop of a hat.

I don't know of anywhere I'd want to stay for a full week and I would be too exhausted after the "vacation" to do a full week of what we do over long weekends.

Who wants to go thru airport security? If it was like the good old days when you could jump out of the car and run to the gate with 20 minutes to spare, I'd fly.

If there weren't too many people flying, we wouldn't tolerate turning swaths of them away through hassle.

Americans work 50 fewer hours per year on average than in 1976.

I prefer several 3 or 4 day weekends per year myself. The flexibility of the modern economy allows for this.

Well, actually, I like 6 weeks vacation paid vacation time, plus several guaranteed 3 or 4 day weekeds related to Easter.

This year was particularly fruitful in terms of creating 'Brückentage' -

So you like sitting on your ass and I like money. So what?

I get paid to sit on my ass - my free time tends to be doing other things. Like swimming at several local lakes in the summer time, or working the forest cutting wood, or gardening. Admittedly, when I ride my bike on the autobahn or in the Black Forest, I'm sitting on my ass.

But then, I assume that sitting on one's ass is pretty much what every commenter here is paid to do, right?

Lol working the forest cutting wood. I'm going to remember that one.

PA - This might be an effect of better job matching in the US versus Germany, due to the more flexible economy in the US. A more industrial old style economy, like in Germany, although good for the state and bosses, doesn't give its workers much job satisfaction. So vacation becomes more important. In more modern economies, like the US, jobs are almost more like consumer goods. People there actually like to boast about how important and fulfilling their job is. This is an extreme example, but lets say you are comparing the job of a coal miner versus a fine art painter. Can you imagine the painter complaining that they didn't get enough vacation?

working the forest cutting wood, or gardening.

That is wok to me, the tax man needs to figure out a way to tax you for those vegies.

And I'd prefer to take a whole week off (including both weekends) without checking the blackberry once - even two weeks. The flexibility of the modern economy makes this completely impossible.

It really is a two-edged sword though. In the old days, there was no substitute for 'being there'. I'm sure there were more cancelled trips.

Anyway, beyond the first couple rungs on the career ladder, vacation is basically flextime anyway. Nobody receives a 2% cut in workload along with an extra week of vacation.


I'm sure this generally has everything to do with the amount of time you are given to take off, but in my work I see a ton of grey beards who WON'T take a week off for vacation despite the fact that they have weeks and weeks of use-or-lose. People like to think they're important and the world would stop turning if they're out. The young people in my organization take week long trips pretty regularly to interesting places. The first comment from the grey beards is usually "why do you want to go there?" Geez, you've been doing this job for 35 years, go take your wife to Paris for a week.

I got a smile out of this. I'm one of those who prefers not to travel so much, so I can in a way understand. I will say, however, that it's probably not just logistics, but economics limiting some travel. Many families budgets are still strained to breaking point, and can't support a week on the road. I'm not sure how different this is than in the past, but I'd guess the debt overhang and financial strains in many families is a significant factor today - whether the wanted to take a week-long vacation or not.

A Factor I have yet to see mentioned.

There are more families with two working parents. This means that even if both spouses get generous leave allotments, that many of the leave days are consumed by children's sick days and days off school, leaving very little time to travel as a complete family. I was unable to go on spring break with my wife and daughter last year, and will be unlikely to go with them this year. Additionally, we have a large spreadsheet with numerous days that the children don't have school. While some are holiday's of one vein or another, a significant amount are for parent teacher conferences or teacher training days. Additionally, as I have children in two different school systems (one in school and two in preschool), these random days off present another challenge.

I would also note that I have decently generous leave, with 15 days off and most major bank holidays.


Good points. I'd add, with the 2 parent household, that both parents have to be able to schedule a full week off at the same time, which is not always easy.

Why would they want to do that? Among the parents I know, it's more like "schedule a month off at different times." It may be a week in your case, but the principle still holds: why halve the kids' holiday? Surely most parents can handle babysitting their offspring alone for a short while.

Wait, so the kids get two holidays or no holidays? Why the heck would you spend your vacation with your kids while your spouse is working? That sounds batshit

Which part of spending vacation with kids while spouse is working is a problem? I understand dislike for kids, but why have any if you don't like them?

I mean, I like my kids, but I also like my spouse. I realize this may make me something of an outlier.

The choice is between sacrificing two out of 52 weeks with your spouse and having the kids sacrifice one of their two weeks of vacation. Even if the parents get a month's vacation each, it's still 2/12 vs 1/2. Either your kids enjoy a change of scenery far less than you enjoy time with your spouse, in which case the problem is not the quantity, or you conveniently approach the whole thing as less pleasure for you vs less pleasure for somebody else. Still an outlier?

America partied hard in July of 1976 and, if I recall correctly, one of the biggest shopping days back then was July 5th.

Speaking as a former GMU employee, I am certain that the numbers of vacation days that tenured GMU professors enjoy has not declined since 1978 - in major part because of how the academic calendar works.

I've lived in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. Vacations are longer and working hours shorter in the NL. Stress over health costs, crime and retirement are MUCH lower. Public spending goes to parks, roads and education (vs. military adventures). As an American, I am aware of the "defensive shield" wrt NATO, etc. but there was no shield involved with Iraq, Afghanistan or Ferguson.

It's sad to see the haters on this thread, as they seem to confuse patriotism with ignorance.

I searched for a ranking of countries by stressedness, but there are none to be found. Or rather, there are tons, but they're all based on made-up metrics like "unemployment rate plus crime minus square feet of parks per person" or something like that. There's none that just asks, how stressed are you on a daily basis, one to ten?

Suicide rate isn't a bad proxy, though it measures more than just work-related stress. Though, it tends to correlate negatively with religiosity. Esp. Catholicism, not surprisingly. Small sampling of rates for wealthy-ish countries:

28.1 South Korea
21.4 Japan
19.2 Sweden
17.0 Belgium
16.0 Finland
15.5 Austria
14.7 France
12.2 Hong Kong
12.0 United States (and remember, we have lots of guns, so in theory there should be less of a barrier to suicide)
11.9 Norway
11.8 United Kingdom
11.5 New Zealand
11.5 Portugal
11.5 Canada
11.3 Denmark
11.3 Iceland
11.2 Chile
11.1 Switzerland
10.3 Ireland
10.3 Singapore (notable esp. in light of the high S. Korean and Japanese rates)
10.0 Australia
9.9 Germany
8.8 Netherlands
7.8 Luxembourg
7.7 Argentina
7.6 Spain
6.3 Italy

I have lived in the Netherlands (born there), Japan, France and the US. Quality of life and quality of people is immeasurably higher here in the US. Stress is much lower than in the other countries for just about anything but especially social standing. Public spending in the European countries mostly goes to income redistribution. Here, less so.

Glad to hear you are happy where you are.

That's interesting. After having lived in Europe my native USA seems pervaded by status anxiety and conspicuous consumption.

Comparing "Europe" to "the USA," like they're these huge monolithic blocs, is hilarious to me. Spend a week in Palo Alto, California. Then drive an hour to Santa Cruz. Which one reflects "American" attitudes towards overachievement and conspicuous consumption?

Quality of life is much better in the US than in the Netherlands, how is that possible... tell me where do you live in US, I will move there immediately!!!

Is this report saying Americans are using fewer vacation days than in the past, or just that they aren't taking as many week-long vacations? This is a big difference. My preference is to take several long-weekend vacations (as opposed to just one week-long vacation). Does this mean I wouldn't have been counted in the survey?

What's the point in a 1-week holiday? You barely have time to get started.

Better to have 10 long weekends or 5 super long weekends, then take 6 months off between jobs to do some real travelling.

My guess is that many people started to find that 1-week holidays result in more stress than holiday. But I wouldn't know. Freelancers are eternally working on something, but to others may seem like they are on an endless holiday.

Three weeks is the optimal time for a holiday; at least that's our experience. Of course you've got to have identified somewhere where it's worth spending three weeks, which is where the Europeans have an advantage.

By the way, if Vienna is so bloody wonderful, why haven't I visited it? Tell me that!

Pshaw, we've got national parks bigger than your (wannabe) country. You could spend months traveling American national parks, see everything from glaciers to bighorn sheep to painted deserts, and never even cross the Mississippi.

Oh if you really want miles and miles of bugger all, visit Australia. Most Australians have more sense than to spend much time in Buggerallia.

Do go if you like imperial places. It could do with a bit more character, but it's very beautiful and slightly crazy. On one recent occasion, I randomly found myself the sole spectator at an orchestra rehearsal early on a Sunday, at the stunning Jesuit Church with a giant portrait of a rabbitoid on the altar. One of these (NSFW) was, perhaps still is, displayed just outside the cemetery where Mozart is buried. Also, Sachertorte.

I agree Nathan. Having lived in Canada and Sweden, I get more legally-mandated vacation days in Sweden (6 weeks) compared with Canada (3 weeks). But in Canada my three previous employers were all flexible and agreeable to me taking several long weekends and then taking a large 6-8 week vacation (only partially paid however, but deduct 3 weeks salary from 52 - it's not a big deal if it suits your needs).

1. More Americans are working multiple part-time jobs, with no paid vacation.

2. The rise of telecommuting, which blurs the lines between personal time and work time. Maybe workers are giving up some vacation time, or working on their vacations, for the opportunity to telecommute.

I think more people travel to see family for holidays - I definitely know more people now that live states away from their parents/children than I did in the late 70s.

yes, vast majority of my travel is to visit remaining family.

Does it count when I do a couple billable hours a day during my 4/5 weeks in the Greek islands every year? That probably isn't a "holiday" at all. But my wife and I own companies. So, we're never on "vacation" like some employee. All my clients are the same -- CEOs. They travel a ton but it shouldn't count as a vacation because they are available and working a few hours a day.

People in the US should get more vacation. There is far too much fake "working" going on, aka, sitting in a chair doing nada. Productivity is what matters. I think the US is still kind of focused on the manufacturing way of doing things. 8 hour shifts, M-F.

I think the US is transitioning with the growth of the tech world.

I really don't know how the European economies stay afloat. They just shut down whole countries for a month at a time. But I suppose not having to spend on defense is a pretty big deal -- especially when those countries have a history of fighting each other. The US should just mark-up the cost of defense 35% and give each country a bill. If they say no then we sell the base rights to the Russians.

I don't see so much of "shut down whole countries for a month at a time" any more. 40 or so years ago the southern European countries used to do it in August, mostly because it gets hot in August and there wasn't a whole lot of air-conditioning, so productivity wouldn't have been great anyway.

But having just gotten back from Italy, I asked around and the whole "take the month of August off" thing seems to be a thing of the past.

1. The Current Population Survey asks if you did "any work for pay" during the week. For most professionals connected by email, etc., the answer will be yes even when on vacation.

2. The big annual vacation seems to be associated with family lifestyless that are less common today. Our stereotype of a DINK couple isn't that they load of the car every July for a road trip through the American west. .

3. Is no one going to mention the aging workforce?

4. Families wth children face more challenges in coordinating schedules than in the past, and not just because it is more likely that two parents are working. The rise of single-parent families makes vacations more difficult. And the increased structure of children's activities limits the number of week-long periods available for vacation.

In 2011, the last year for which statistics are available, there were 3,524,000 public school teachers in the U.S. Add all the other PS employees, most of whom take the summer off, and you have more than half of the people who "take a week off in July."

As I read the questionnaire, they wouldn't be counted as on vacation.

Wasn't the 70s when "National Lampoon's Vacation" came out? Surely it took time for everybody to see the movie but now all Americans seem to have gotten the message.

It's criminal that this post got buried so far down in the discussion.

Correct me if I am wrong about this, but I believe that it is against the law in Germany to take another job during your vacation from your regular job. You MUST take the vacation. Why is such a law necessary?

My first thought is to prevent companies from having shell companies in which their employees are coerced to work during vacation.

"My country is perfect and no comparison with any other country and especially not a European country is possible." - every American marginal revolution commenter ever.

Maybe Marx was onto something about class consciousness. It's amazing how people will violently rationalize their lower qualities of life. But to each his own I suppose.

Or maybe individuals have different utility functions, especially across continents and cultures?

This isn't necessarily about American Expectionalism so continue to slay all of the strawmen you want, at the end of the day it is still comparing apples to oranges.

Are Americans having enough fun at home that they don't see the point?

"Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976"

And this was in the supposedly bad Stagflation economy of the 1970s.
It looks a whole lot better to me now from the perspective of 2014.

Agree that US quality of life is higher than Northern Europe (Germany, Sweden) in most respects; long vacations are the main exception. But there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

One is that European vacations are synchronized. Everyone takes nearly all of their vacation during the same few weeks (August in Germany, July in Sweden). No one schedules any meetings or deliverables in that time -- it's simply a hole in the calendar. That's when you take your vacation. Period.

This is really the only way to make 4-6 weeks of vacation work. Having 10% or more of weeks as vacation being take randomly over the year would be hugely disruptive - every time you needed to coordinate people, someone would be missing - the ski folks and winter-haters would take off in Jan-Feb; parents of school age kids spread over Jun-Aug; non-parents/empy-nesters in May and Sept because off-season; Fridays and Mondays with long-weekenders...

The other reason is network effect: If a few major employers are synchronized, they take everyone else with them. With government agencies or large companies having most people on vacation, the companies that do business with them - partners or suppliers or even stuff like food service or print shops or dhl - don't have much to do either. With many people not working, no reason for day care and public transit routes are canceled or have low frequency. Shops tend to have a big sale before summer, then not restock or staff much over summer. Small/non-chain places may close altogether. Non-emergency public services (e.g. libraries, DMV, regulatory) close or slow down; even urgent services can get really sketchy (cue medical tragedy and/or riots of the summer).

Two, European business is international. For most workers, summer is blank. But for a lot of professionals who have international contacts or projects, summer is phone and laptop, just as with US.

Re: This is really the only way to make 4-6 weeks of vacation work

I disagree. I have worked at a firm that offered four weeks vacation and far from preferring everyone go at one, employees had to schedule major vacations when their coworkers were not taking theirs. Staggered vacation schedules also work quite well-- very few people are so vital that having them out for a week or so will scuttle an important process. Any sensible form makes sure there's trained and capable back=up for everyone from the mailroom guys to the C-level guys.

I wonder which criteria you use to assert that the quality of life is higher in North America.
I love food, women, wine and classical music. That's why I love Europe.

Certainly the US has no women, wine, or classical musicians, but I've heard rumors that we're going to start shipping some food in. Here's to hoping!

Food in the US isn't all that, women are generally fatter and less alluring, wine is a toss-up.

Well Americans only eat fast food so it must be all terrible and you know Americans are all fat so all the women are fat too. The wine can't be called French or Italian so that must be terrible too.

Mine would be

housing (quality, price, and availability) is better in most US major cities than in most European ones;

food (price, quality - especially produce, good prepared options, range of ethnic/interesting) is much better in the US than Northern Europe, but better in Southern Europe than the US (expect ethnic options), UK about evens;

health care (availability and outcomes) US wins if you have a job with good insurance; national systems in Europe are badly overloaded, probably closer to evens if you have private insurance in northern Europe at least

women (professional opportunities) - US wins for ambitious professional women, Scandinavia and Netherlands win for women who want a lot of maternity leave, part-time work etc and are willing give up a lot of opportunities in return; Southern and Eastern Europe better balanced - could be close to evens; (Italy wins for sex appeal :-)

classical music - probably evens

Re: health care (availability and outcomes)

Cost should not be a non-trivial factor in this assessment. European healthcare systems, which, yes, vary widely in quality, are all lower cost, both to the user and to the society as a whole.

The food here is fine, thank you.

Many jobs used to require that vacation time be taken in weekly increments, and planned well in advance. My father's job did. Nowadays vacation days can often be taken at very short notice and may be used not for true vacationing but for errand running and necessary chores, the sort of thing non-working spouses used to do.

It has been my observation that most people prefer more work and have more money to less work and less money. In Europe people do more work for in family consumption than in the USA which makes up for them working less in the taxed economy. Remember a penny saved is 2 pennies earned because you do not need to pay taxes on the penny saved.

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