Paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know and things we don’t know, and things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know.

One thing many working people in American don’t know that they don’t know is how poor our social benefits are compare with those enjoyed by workers in other countries.  No doubt one reason is the general media blackout about worker experiences in other countries.  A case in point: vacation benefits.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently completed a study of vacation benefits in advanced capitalist economies.  Here is what the authors found:

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer at least six paid holidays per year.


Even though paid vacations and holidays are not legally required in the United States, some employers do provide them to their workers. The table below shows the paid vacations and paid holidays offered in the U.S. private sector based on data from the 2012 National Compensation Survey.  The first two columns show the percentage of private sector workers that receive paid leave, vacation and holidays.  The next two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays provided to those employees that receive the relevant benefit.  The last two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays for all private sector workers, meaning those that receive and those that do not receive the relevant benefits.

US data

Thus, on average, private-sector workers in the United States receive ten days of paid vacation per year and six paid holidays.  This total still leaves U.S. workers last in the rankings even when compared with the legal minimums highlighted above.  And many employers in these other countries also offer more paid leave than legally required.

Moreover, several countries require additional paid leave for younger and older workers, additions that are also not included in the legal minimums highlighted above.  For example, “in Switzerland, workers under the age of 30 who do volunteer work with young people are entitled to an additional five days of annual leave. Norway offers an additional week of vacation to workers over the age of 60.”

And some countries provide additional leave for workers with difficult schedules.  For example, “Australia offers some shift workers an additional work week of leave. Austria offers workers with ‘heavy night work’ two to three extra days of leave, depending on how frequently they do this shift work, and an additional four days of leave after five years of shift work.”

Several countries offer additional paid leave for jury service, moving, getting married, or community or union work.  For example, “French law guarantees unpaid leave for community work, including nine work days for representing an association and six months for projects of ‘international solidarity’ abroad and leave with partial salary for ‘individual training’ that is less than one year. Sweden requires employers to provide paid leave for workers fulfilling union duties.”

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden even require employers to pay workers at a premium rate while they are on vacation.

There is more to say, but the point should be clear.  Ignorance of experiences elsewhere has narrowed our own sense of possibilities.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:


Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:


The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:


Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:


Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:


The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.

Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The Washington Post has provided some data on medical costs across a selection of countries (Argentina, Canada, Chile, and India in grey; France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain in blue; and the U.S. in red). The data reveal that American health care is very expensive compared to other countries.


No wonder the US spends twice as much as France on health care.  In 2009, the U.S. average was $8000 per person; in France, $4000.  (Canada came in at $4800).  Why do we spend so much?  Ezra Klein quotes the title of a 2003 paper by four health-care economists:  “it’s the prices, stupid.”

And why are US prices higher?  Prices in the other OECD countries are lower partly because of what U.S. conservatives would call socialism – the active participation of the government.  In the U.K. and Canada, the government sets prices.  In other countries, the government uses its Wal-Mart-like power as a huge buyer to negotiate lower prices from providers.  (If it’s a good thing for Wal-Mart to bring lower prices for people who need to buy clothes, why is it a bad thing for the government to bring lower prices to people who need to buy, say, an appendectomy? I could never figure that out.)

There may also be cultural differences between the U.S. and other wealthy countries, differences about whether greed, for lack of a better word, is good.  How much greed is good, and in what realms is it good?  Klein quotes a man who served in the Thatcher government:

Health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere.  It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.

So we Americans roll along, paying several times what others pay for medical procedures, doctor visits, and drugs.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Re-posted to add to the discussion about sexual assault in the aftermath of the Steubenville rape trial, the Senate hearing on rape and harassment in the military, and the controversy at Occidental College.

Toban B. sent us two pairs of photographs showing feminist activism and backlash (images found here) at the University of Western Ontario.  These posters, and their defacement, nicely demonstrate how resistance to oppression is met with counter-resistance.  Until inequality is challenged, things often seem to be just fine; when groups stand up and demand equality, we suddenly see how fiercely people will defend their privilege.

Images after the jump (includes language about sexual violence):


The  International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has released new data on the incidence of invasive and non-invasive cosmetic procedures.  The U.S. leads in sheer numbers of procedures but, accounting for population, we fall into 4th place.  South Korea leads for the number of procedures per person, followed by Greece and Italy.


By far the most common kinds of surgical cosmetic procedures are lipoplasty and breast augmentation.  Along with fat, breasts seem to be a particular concern: breast lifts and breast reductions for both men and women are also in the top ten.  Abdominoplasty, nose jobs, eyelid surgeries, and facelifts are as well.


The incidence of these surgeries is strongly related to everything from the gender binary to global power dynamics.  In 2008 we reported that male breast reductions were the most common cosmetic surgery for 13-19 year olds (boys and girls combined). You would be shocked at what counts as excess breast tissue and how little the before and after photos look.  Boys and men getting breast reductions, alongside women getting augmentations, is obviously about our desire for men and women to be different, not naturally-occurring difference.  See The Story of My Man-Boobs for more.

Likewise, we’ve posted about surgeries that create an epithelial fold, a fold of skin in the eyelid more common in people with White than Asian ethnic backgrounds.  This surgery is a trend among Asians and Asian-Americans, as colonization has left us with an association between Whiteness, attractiveness, and power.

The Economist summarizes some other trends:

Breast augmentation, the second biggest surgical procedure, is most commonly performed in America and Brazil. Buttock implants are also a Brazilian specialty, as is vaginal rejuvenation. Asia is keen on nose jobs: China, Japan and South Korea are among the top five nations for rhinoplasty.

More on where and how many procedures are being performed, but nothing on why, at the ISAPS report.

Image at The Economist; via Global Sociology.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Back in June, Mitt Romney said:

I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone… get[s] as much education as they can afford

After all, Mitt got as much education as he (his parents, really) could afford, so he thought it best if everyone had that same opportunity.

Opportunity – How much is that in American money?

Yesterday, Planet Money  posted this graph showing the costs and benefits of a college education in several countries.

The title of the post summarizes the interpretation of the college-educated folks at Planet Money:

“College Costs More In America, But The Payoff Is Bigger”

But what if you look at the data from the other side?  Here’s the half-empty-glass title:

“College in the US Costs a Lot, and If You Can’t Afford It, You’re Really Screwed”

…or words to that effect.

What the chart seems to show is inequality — specifically, the inequality between the college educated and everyone else.  In advanced economies, like the those of the countries in the chart, education is important. But some of those countries, like the Scandinavian countries, have reduced the income sacrificed by non-college people relative to the college educated. Other countries favor a more unequal distribution of income.

To look a little closer, I looked at the relationship between the payoff of a BA degree for men and a country’s Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality.  I used the ten countries in the Planet Money chart and added another ten OECD countries.

The correlation is 0.44.  The US is the clear outlier.  In the land of opportunity, if you’re a male, either you pay the considerable price of going to college, or you pay the price for not going to college.

With this inequality come the kinds of social consequences that Charles Murray elaborates in his latest book about non-educated Whites — disability, divorce, demoralization, death.


Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

The poverty rate in the US in the mid-2000s was about 17%.  In Sweden, the poverty rate was 5.3%; in Germany, 11%.   That was the rate after adding in government transfers.  In Germany, the poverty rate before those transfers was 33.6%, ten points higher than that in the US.  Sweden’s pre-transfer poverty rate was about the same as ours.

Jared Bernstein has this chart showing pre-transfer and post-transfer rates for the OECD countries (click to enlarge):

Three  points:

1.  Governments have the power to reduce poverty, and reduce it a lot.  European governments do far more towards this goal than does the US government.

2.  It’s unlikely that America’s poor people are twice as lazy or unskilled or dissolute as their European counterparts.  Individual factors may explain differences between individuals, but these explanations have little relevance for the problem of overall poverty.  The focus on individual qualities also has little use as a basis for policy.  European countries have fewer people living in poverty, but not because those countries exhort the poor to lead more virtuous lives and punish them for their improvident ways.  European countries have lower poverty rates because the governments provide money and services to those who need them.

3.  The amount of welfare governments provide does not appear to have a dampening effect on the overall economy.

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

As I speculated years ago (here and here), it may be hard for Americans to imagine a world where the law guarantees them at least 20 paid vacation days per year.  But such a world exists.  It’s called Europe.*

Americans are the lucky ones.  As Mitt Romney has warned us “European-style benefits” would   “poison the very spirit of America.”  Niall Ferguson, who weighs in frequently on history and economics, contrasts America’s “Protestant work ethic” with what you find in Europe – an “atheist sloth ethic.”

The graph is a bit misleading. It shows only what the law requires of employers.  Americans do get vacations.  But here in America, how much vacation you get, or whether you get any at all, and whether it’s paid – that all depends on what you can negotiate with your employer.

Since American vacations depend on what the boss will grant, some people get more paid vacation, some get less, and some get none.  So it might be useful to ask which sectors of our economy are beehives of the work ethic and which are sloughs of sloth.  (Ferguson’s employer, for example, Harvard University, probably gives him three months off in the summer, plus a week or two or more in the winter between semesters, plus spring break, and maybe a few other days.  I wonder how he would react if Harvard did away with these sloth-inducing policies.)

The Wall Street Journal recently (here) published a graph of BLS data on access to paid vacations; they break it up by industry near the bottom.

Those people who are cleaning your hotel room and serving your meals while you’re on vacation — only about one in four can get any paid vacation days.  And at the other end, which economic sector is most indulgent of sloth among its workforce?  Wall Street.  Four out of five there get paid vacation.

How much paid vacation do we get?  That depends on sector, but it also depends on length of service.  As the Journal says,

Europeans also get more time off: usually a bare minimum of four weeks off a year. Most Americans have to stay in a job for 20 years to get that much, according to BLS data.


* The graph is from five years ago, but I doubt things have changed much. The US still has no federal or state laws requiring any paid vacation days.