The United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee paid time off.
“You have entire cultures like France … where pretty much everyone takes August off, and it’s just part of the culture there,” said Shawn Fremstad, director of law and political economy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “You don’t really see that here in the US.”
The Working Time Directive of the European Union, passed in the early 1990s, prescribes at least 20 working days of paid vacation in all EU countries.
France requires at least 30 paid vacation days per year. In addition, many European countries also have paid holidays, giving workers there even more paid days off.
“When I came to France, I realized that vacations are a way of life,” said Fatima Cadet-Diaby, an American who has lived in Paris for almost seven years. “People talk about their vacations all the time.”
More vacation time could also lead to macroeconomic gains in the US
“I think people have a stereotype in their mind of France as this kind of lazy culture,” Fremstad said. “But if you look at the employment rate there for prime-age workers, basically 25 to 54, it’s higher than in the US. So you have more people working and they are a lot more productive per hour.”
Although the majority of Americans have some form of paid time off, nearly half of workers say they don’t use those days. About half worry that taking time off could put them behind at work, with nearly 20% believing it could hurt their career development and 16% saying they fear losing their job, according to the Data from the Pew Research Center.
“There is some concern that we don’t have legal protections and people have been fired for taking vacation time,” said John de Graaf, author of Take Back Your Time.
Watch them Video above to learn more about why Americans don’t take vacations when they’re free, and what we can learn from our colleagues in France.