What If We Had As Much Vacation as Europeans?

What If?

In America, we work hard, and we’re proud of it. All that hard work has propelled us to number one in the world when it comes to family wealth. But our work-life balance is out of whack, ranked 28th in the world. So we wondered, what if Americans took as much vacation as Europeans?

On average, American workers get about two weeks paid vacation every year. Our European counterparts? Double that. And workers in Sweden get a whopping 41 paid days off to do whatever they’d like.

“There are many industries in this country where it's looked down upon if you take too much vacation or if you're not available 24/7,” says Jody Greenstone Miller, founder and CEO of Business Talent Group. “The idea from a company perspective is that there's only one way to get work done, hire someone full-time, work them to death.”

Imagine an America with more than a month of free time. That’s more down time for ourselves to see family and friends, shop, go out to eat and relax at the beach.

“Travel would go way up. Restaurant consumption particularly in vacation areas would really benefit,” says Bruce Sacerdote, professor of economics at Dartmouth University. “I think that the really beautiful summer spots would really, really boom.”

Beautiful summer spots like our national parks, which attract close to 300 million tourists a year, could get a little cramped if our vacation time doubled. More time for R and R in the great outdoors would also mean a healthier and even happier America. According to the bureau of labor statistics, working longer increases the likelihood of smoking more, exercising less and making fewer regular checkups at the doctor.  

“I think it would improve the health and well-being of the employees in the United States,” says Cary Cooper, distinguished professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University Management School in the U.K. “The evidence is quite clear in the United States and even in Europe that if people consistently work long hours they will suffer from stress related illnesses like anxiety and depression.”

The American work ethic has helped make the U.S. the most productive country in the world. More vacation time could knock us down a few pegs though. The U.K. is almost 30 percentage points behind the U.S. when it comes to cranking out goods and services, according to the Office for National Statistics in the U.K.

“We have a tremendous productivity advantage in some sectors like finance and banking and law, just to take a couple, and manufacturing to be honest, we're kind of across the board,” says Sacerdote. “So i think that our firms, particularly in certain service sectors would be harmed. We would no longer be king of the hill in certain industries.”

We also wouldn’t be king of the hills in income earned. The average American’s gross income is more than $55,000 a year. Look at Portugal, where they make about $23,000 a year. Private spending in the U.S. accounts for over 70 percent of the country’s GDP. With a pay cut like that, we might be a little less tempted to splurge.

“We certainly consume a lot more stuff. This is a well-known fact, whether you look at statistics or whether you just take a trip to Europe and look at how many cars per family they have over there, the size of the cars, the size of the apartments, so we certainly have higher consumption,” says Sacerdote. “So our household would have to cut back to one iPad from two and obviously that would just be horrific.”

ABC News' Dan Kloeffler, David J. Fazekas, Stephan Doyno and Maurice Abbate contributed to this episode.