The Great American Working Vacation



Man with a laptop at beach resort

Photo by danr13/Fotolia

by Katherine Grace Carman and Michael S. Pollard

January 19, 2015

For years, vacations were a time to reset and renew for Americans, a time away from work. But over the years, this break has been eroding. More and more, Americans check their email, take calls, and work while on vacation.

Late last year, RAND asked members of the American Life Panel (ALP) about their voting intentions, as well as their beliefs and opinions about a number of other issues. In the fourth week of our survey, conducted in late October, we surveyed 2,903 members of the ALP about vacation habits.

We found that 43.4 percent of the whole sample reported taking a vacation last summer. This was slightly, but not significantly, higher (49.5 percent) for those who are currently working. Of those who took a vacation and were employed, 58.8 percent reported working during their vacation.

Figure 1: Vacation No More: Nearly 60 Percent of Workers Who Took Vacation Worked While Away from Their Jobs

Working on vacation takes many forms: 40.2 percent reported checking their email, 22.1 percent reported checking voicemail, 23.9 percent reported taking calls, and 12.3 percent reported working like normal.

Figure 2: What Does Working on Vacation Entail?

After holding a range of factors constant (including gender, marital status, educational attainment, and political affiliation), workers who are younger or are non-minorities are more likely to take vacation, while higher incomes are associated with much higher rates of vacation. The relationship between income and vacation is unsurprising, since those with higher incomes are more likely to be able to afford to take vacation.

We also looked at which workers work on vacation. Again we held a range of factors constant (age, race/ethnicity, marital status, household income, and political affiliation). We found that working men were twice as likely as working women to work on vacation and college-educated workers are 77 percent more likely to work on vacation than those without a college education. We also found that Republicans were 37.5 percent more likely than Democrats to work on vacation.

As with other surveys, we weighted responses to ensure that results were representative of the population, matching to the 2014 Current Population Survey, and we calculated our sampling weights to account for non-response. We limited our results to the 2,397 panel members who participated in both the first and the fourth weeks of our survey. Margin of error is calculated as 1.96 times the standard error. Additional information about the methodology is available in our methodology report.

Katherine Carman is an economist and Michael Pollard is a sociologist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on Newsweek on January 19, 2015. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.