He’s Selling and She’s Buying – I Hope They Discussed This Beforehand!

25 July 2014

What is something that women buy and men sell, is purchased by a quarter of all divorcées who are offered it and gets more expensive with the age of the seller but cheaper with the age of the buyer?

Why it’s holiday trading, of course! I have had a number of clients and consultants tell me, anecdotally at least, that men are more likely to sell holidays than women. Being a scientist at heart I decided to test this via the Orbit database and sure enough, that’s the case. In short, men are selling 2.5 days of annual leave for every day sold by women. The converse is also true – women are more likely to buy than men with 1.6 days being bought by women for each day of annual leave bought by men.

Why do men sell so much more than women and why do women buy so much more than men? To try and answer this I dug a bit deeper looking at kids, income and marital status to see if any of these would shed some light. By far the biggest effect is the presence of children who appear to stimulate men to sell even more relative to women and for women to buy even more relative to men.

So, not only are men selling more than women and women buying more than men, but having kids around seems to exacerbate these differences. Perhaps the explanation for kids increasing these differences – and I am speculating here – is that men with kids have a greater tendency to sell for the extra cash and women, who are still more likely to be taking on a disproportionate share of the child care duties, are buying hols to cover term breaks and other periods where alternative care for kids is not there (perhaps in part because their partners have already sold off their holidays!). As holiday purchases also increase with men who have kids (the increased buying and selling by men here is from different sub groups of men) I suspect that people are indeed buying to cover childcare needs.

Turning to income and marital status, income seems to have a much smaller impact– as it increases there is a dampening of the gender differences affect a bit, but not by much. Marital status on the other hand is a big factor where divorced men with kids sell 3 days of hols for every day sold by divorced women. If you really want to induce a man to sell off his cherished holidays, just divorce him. Divorce with kids also impacts women with buying increasing relative to all other women, so if you want to send your wife into a holiday buying frenzy, just hand her the papers and your lawyer’s contact details.

The anecdotal evidence that there is a gender gap in holiday trading is indeed backed up by the data with holiday trading records showing unequivocally that men are disproportionately selling and women disproportionately buying. Moreover, the data shows that these differences increase with kids and are impacted by marital status, especially divorce. Why such stark gender differences in holiday trading exist is the first place is still an open question but perhaps one that could be resolved with some decent survey work.

By the way, this does not mean that if you have a predominantly male workforce you need to be cautious of holiday selling as men still buy far more than they sell as a group. This is also true of both men and women who have kids so the business case is still there as the increased selling is offset. Even more reassuring, the data indicates there is predictability in how holiday trading will play out in an organisation which will enable you to build a reasonable business case a priori if you are considering rolling it out.

What I find most interesting about all this is that it shows just how important holiday trading is for families of all shapes and sizes to help manage their time and in some cases finances – perhaps a primary explanation for its huge popularity. Life is complicated, unpredictable and less respectful of the professional/personal boundary than we would all like to admit. Holiday trading seems to be a significant tool that helps us wedge, squeeze and jimmy together our professional and personal spaces in ways that can and must be done uniquely for each individual given their own personal circumstances.

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