Medieval peasants had far more vacation days than the average American today.
The peasant, although often toiling in fields with back-breaking labor, would only work about 150 days of the year, according to a report from Juliet B. Schor, an author and professor of sociology at Boston College.
Peasants generally received anywhere from eight weeks to a half-year off. At the time, the Church considered frequent and mandatory holidays the key to keeping a working population from revolting.
So why do we often consider working conditions now better than ever before?
In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act into effect. The law initially limited working hours to 44 per week, which dropped to 40 by 1940. The passage of the act however, was not revolutionary. It was reactionary.
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Worker’s revolts and union strikes in the early 20th century had aimed to restore a standard of life that was taken away by the Industrial Revolution. Before the invention of the lightbulb and the growth of factories, workers enjoyed a fairly leisurely and balanced lifestyle.
Before electricity, workers were limited to how much they could work by the rising and setting of the sun. Then, workers were limited by the amount of hours they could spend in the office. In today’s digital culture, workers can meet deadlines and check in from around the world, no matter what time.
In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that by 2030, Americans would enjoy such great lifestyles that we would all enjoy more leisure than work time—which, at this point in history, seems very unlikely to happen.
Americans aren’t even taking the vacation days they’re offered. And there are endless studies suggesting that longer working hours are decreasing both employee productivity and health.
So go ahead: Take all your vacation days and cross off your bucket list travels. And if you ever feel guilty about skipping out of work, just remember that you’re still probably working way more than a medieval peasant.