Photo by Mike Beltzner, Flickr CC

Spring is here, and for many that means it’s time for a spring break! However, taking time off work can be a big deal, and taking a break can affect earnings and productivity. Research shows that vacation and leave time are largely shaped by a countries social and political context, but taking time off work can have serious consequences no matter where you live, especially for women.

To start, vacations take place in the context of larger structures of gender inequality and work/family policies. Mothers’ time in and out of work is shaped by institutional and cultural contexts, including paid-leave policies, state support for childcare, and cultural expectations around maternal employment. When women are supported by well-paid leave, affordable childcare, and a cultural expectation that mothers work, women with children ultimately work more weekly hours than those living in countries without these factors. Even so, time off is not without penalty. Country-specific policies also help predict the penalty women face for taking a break from employment to care for children. For instance, in a comparison between Germany, Sweden, and the U.S. — countries with distinct leave policies — researchers found that long leaves meant career penalties for all women. Unsurprisingly, in the U.S., a country known for lagging behind in parental leave, even short periods of time spent away from work can hurt womens’ careers.
When women take vacation days, they tend to take more than men, but this doesn’t mean that women are lounging on the beach or in the ski lodge while the men toil in the office.  Part of the reason for the gender difference is men use fewer vacation days because of anxieties about job security and supervisory responsibilities. Comparisons between nurses’ unions (mostly women) and firefighters’ unions (mostly men) shows that women prioritize negotiating scheduling, including vacation time, while men emphasize the importance of fairness in access to overtime among co-workers. Women who have unused vacation days tend to be more worried about the success of their families, but research shows that family concerns don’t necessarily lead women to take more vacation days.