In Australia every full time worker is guaranteed four weeks of paid vacation each year. In Japan, it's 10 days. Canada? A minimum of 10 days of paid vacation. Here in the U.S.? Zero.
Just as the United States is the only wealthy country in the world that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave, it's also the only one that doesn't have federally guaranteed paid vacation time. Which is perhaps just one reason why fewer and fewer people today are taking vacations than they did two generations ago. The other reason? We simply don't have a culture that values vacation anymore.
Back in 1976, roughly 80 percent of Americans took a week's vacation. But here in 2014, just 56 percent will. Despite the lack of federal laws, most Americans working full time do have the option to take some paid vacation time. The problem for these people seems to be a cultural one. By taking all of your vacation days, you're seen as lazy or unmotivated. And your ability to get promoted or earn more money is diminished.
One possibility is that vacation suffers from a "Prisoner's Dilemma." It's dangerous to be "that guy" who uses all the time off they get when everyone else is on the job, so workers limit their vacations. On balance, The Wall Street Journal says, the evidence does support that theory. Workers pay a career penalty for vacation. If Americans could establish a pro-vacation norm, those pressures would lessen.
That seems to be happening in some workplaces, where bosses require workers to use their time off. That might be, for the most part, just a management fad. Yet it is surprisingly normal in one industry: finance. That's not out of kindness, however. Regulators have long recommended banks require vacations as a way of making it harder to conceal embezzlement.
In countries like Australia, taking vacation time is seen as the cultural norm. Why wouldn't you take all your federally mandated paid vacation days? It only makes sense.
So how can Americans create a culture more like that of our parents and grandparents — where vacation was seen as a healthy thing that promoted family values and allowed workers a mental and physical reset? I honestly have no idea. But it's becoming clear that our staycation culture (the luxury of perhaps taking nights and weekends off and lounging on the couch) is not a long term solution.
Images: Screenshot from the 1983 film National Lampoon's Vacation; Graph of workers who took a weeklong vacation via Vox with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics