Do we take enough vacation days?

One of the major tenets of the time-crunch narrative is that Americans don’t get enough vacation. We’re slaving away longer than those Europeans who get a month off every summer, and working longer hours than in cultures that believe in good naps.

It’s hard to know, exactly, what is “enough,” but I found an interesting statistic while poking around in surveys that Princeton University has done of alumni approaching major reunions (5th, 10th, 25th, etc). I first studied these numbers in 2009. Among members of the class of 1994 (that is, people in their mid-to-late 30s, approaching their 15th reunions), a full 74% took 3 weeks or more of vacation in the previous year, with nearly 45% taking 4 or more weeks. Another 19% took 2 weeks, meaning that only about 7% took less than 2 weeks.

Note that the question didn’t ask “how many vacation days do you have available?” In recent years, a number of groups have claimed that Americans are leaving vast numbers of vacation days on the table, perhaps in an attempt to show our dedication to our jobs. This survey actually asked how much time people took off. And the answer doesn’t seem to suggest an epidemic of vacation-less Americans.

Of course, one can’t extrapolate from Princetonians to the rest of the country. But if anything, the number of work hours Princeton alumni claim (with the vast majority claiming to work more than 40 per week) would seem to suggest that these folks are more likely to be workaholics than the rest of the labor force. If hard-charging Princetonians are taking their vacations, then maybe the situation isn’t as bleak for everyone else, either.

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