The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.
Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. The average private sector U.S. worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays. One in four Americans does not have a single paid day off. Based on a report released by the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), 24/7 Wall St. identified the countries where workers get at least 30 days off a year.
Several nations providing workers with a great deal of time off can afford to be generous. Germany, where the economy remains strong, had an unemployment rate of just 5.5% in 2012. Similarly, New Zealand’s unemployment rate was just 6.9% last year. Both are well below the 8.0% Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) unemployment rate, as well as the 8.1% rate in the United States.
Still, some nations giving workers a generous combination of paid, legally protected vacation days and holidays currently are struggling economically. France, Italy, Portugal and Spain each had an unemployment rate in excess of 10% last year. Spain’s unemployment rate of 25.1% was the worst among the 34 OECD member nations. The gross domestic product (GDP) of three of these four nations shrank in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In France, GDP rose by just 0.03%.
Because time-off is time not spent productively working, it would seem to be an expense that countries with struggling economies cannot afford. To make matters worse, “workers who have vacation and paid holidays also tend to have much higher levels of other benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). Of the eight nations requiring workers receive 30 days off a year, only New Zealand’s government spent proportionally less than the U.S.’s 40.3% of GDP, while four nations spent more than 50% of GDP.
But experts consulted by 24/7 Wall St. expressed doubt that the overall effect of extra time off on the economy is negative. Schmitt told 24/7 Wall St. “paid vacation and holidays don’t appear to have any meaningful impact on macroeconomic outcomes.” Pascal Marianna, a labor markets statistician at the OECD, noted that France and Germany had a similar number of vacation days, but very different economies. While Germany’s economy continues to do well, France is mired in a recession.
Because the United States is the second-most productive developed country as measured by GDP per capita and has no mandatory vacation time, some might argue that vacation reduces productivity. However, in another measure of labor productivity — GDP per hour worked — the U.S. was only marginally better than Germany and France, both developed countries that guarantee among the most vacation time. Of course, it is worth noting that the average U.S. employee also clocks 20% more hours per worker than those in Germany or France.
While CEPR and others argue that an economy’s productivity can be improved by awarding more vacation, not all countries see it as worthwhile. Portugal, for one, decided to eliminate four of its national holidays beginning in 2013 as part of its most recent austerity measures.
To determine the countries where workers get the most time off, 24/7 Wall St. relied on figures from CEPR’s study “No-Vacation Nation Revisited.” To account for the fact that holidays in many nations are determined at a regional level and are based on the number of days worked, the organization standardized both paid vacation days and paid holidays awarded to workers. We also considered figures published by the OECD for 2012 unemployment and both hours worked and labor productivity in 2011. IMF figures, most for 2012, on real GDP growth, GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity), and both debt and government spending as a percentage of GDP were used also.
These are the countries where workers get the most time off.