NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Workers Prefer More Money To More Leisure

August 7, 2000

The standard for paid vacations in America is two weeks per year. In Europe, by contrast, one month of vacation is the minimum, with some countries mandating six weeks or more. Many people believe that Americans are overworked and that the federal government should mandate a reduction in work hours. Europe's experience with shorter work hours, however, shows there is a very high economic cost to such policies.

By and large Americans don't really want more time off. They prefer to be paid more. A Roper Starch Worldwide poll released June 5 asked people whether, if give a choice, they would prefer more time off or more money.

  • Fifty-seven percent of Americans said they would prefer the money; only 37 percent wanted more time off.
  • Interestingly, the poll asked the same question of people in 29 other countries, and in only 7 did a majority of workers say they preferred more time off.
  • A second poll, by Wirthlin Worldwide, released on June 26 asked 1,038 Americans whether they would rather have an extra vacation day or $100; again, 57 percent said they preferred the money.

According to the Roper poll, 57 percent of all workers in Western Europe prefer higher wages to increased time off. Yet France, for example, cut its standard work week from 40 hours to 39 hours in 1982, and to 35 hours 2 years ago -- with no reduction in pay -- despite the fact that 63 percent of French workers would prefer more money to fewer hours.

At least for now, it is clear that American workers prefer the money. If the government forces them to take time off instead, most workers will be worse off.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, August 2, 2000.


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