Yes, the summer begins now. It’s not me saying so. It’s the American people. Survey after survey has found that more Americans believe Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer than any other occasion (e.g., the beginning of baseball season or when pools open).
So as the calendar turns from the rebirth of spring to the sweltering heat of summer in this part of the world, here are five statistics to mark the occasion:
1. Summer is not most people’s favorite time of the year.
This one surprised me a little bit. Most people prefer warmer to cooler weather, and I always remembered summer being free time. Yet just 29% of Americans said summer was their favorite season in a 2020 CBS News poll. Fall (27%) and spring (25%) were right within the margin of error. A previous CBS News poll from 2013 had spring and summer tied at 33% for favorite season.
Polling often doesn’t show any of the meteorological summer months (June, July or August) to be the favorite of Americans. Frequently, it’s May, October or December.
Of course, there are regional variations. Americans in the northern part of the country are far more likely to list summer as their favorite season than those in the South. Southerners are more likely to list spring.
I guess New Englanders don’t like the backdoor cold fronts of the spring, while Southerners dislike the sweltering heat of summer.
2. Seventy-two degrees is usually just right.
One way to deal with the summer heat is to put on the air conditioning. Around 90% of Americans reportedly have AC, which is more than any country except Japan. About 70% have central AC.
A National Opinion Research Center poll last year asked those who had central AC what temperatures they set their thermostats to during the day and at night. During the day, the most popular answer was 72 degrees. During the night, the most popular answer was 72 degrees.
There’s a wide range in the data, with some people going as low as 55 degrees and some going as high as 76 degrees. Indeed, 13% of all of those with central AC said they slept in a temperature of 67 degrees or less during the summer. About 40% to 45% of people indicated that they kept their thermostats above 72 degrees during the day and at night.
What most Americans do agree upon is that having air conditioning is preferable to not having it. A 2019 CBS News poll inquired about whether Americans preferred having the windows open or the windows closed with the AC during a hot summer day. The clear winner was windows closed with the AC on at 65%, compared with 30% who said windows open.
3. Not going on vacation this weekend? Same here.
This Memorial Day weekend about 40 million Americans are expected to travel on a vacation, according to AAA. Most of those people (about 35 million) expect to travel by car. That means that most Americans aren’t taking a trip this weekend.
Most Americans do seem to want to take some vacation this summer, however. A Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted in April and May found that 72% of Americans plan to take a vacation away from their home this summer, although only 40% say they will definitely take one.
The biggest divides in whether someone goes on vacation are, perhaps not surprisingly, age and income. Those under 35 (82%) say they’re far more likely to say they plan on taking a vacation away from home than those who are 65 and older (60%). Those making $100,000 or more are more likely to say they’ll travel (87%) than those making less than $50,000 a year (59%).
If people don’t end up traveling for vacation, it will be because of prices. Gas, flight and hotel and lodging prices were listed as much more important factors in making summer vacation plans than figuring out time off or fear over the coronavirus.
4. Most people just want to take a load off during summer.
If summer is known for taking vacations, then what do we actually want to do on those vacations? Well, it seems that most of us just want to be lazy.
That same Washington Post poll found that 76% of Americans said relaxing was a thing they liked to do on vacation. Next up (and within the margin of error of that result) was eating at restaurants (75%). Going to the beach or pool was in third place at 65%.
No other option hit a majority.
Indeed, it seems Americans don’t want to exert too much energy in the summer months. Other polling indicates that Americans are far less likely to want to do athletic activities such as playing sports or going running than simply enjoying a meal during this summer vacation.
5. Summer vacation ends at a lot of different points.
Just as quickly as summer has begun, I hate to tell you that it will end just as quickly. When I was a kid, Labor Day marked that point. That’s when school, much to my undying hatred, began anew. Polling shows that more people think Labor Day marks the end of summer than the fall equinox.
What’s interesting is that this is sort of a Northern- and Middle Atlantic-centric point of view. A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that only 23% of American students go back to school after Labor Day. In New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, over 80% of the studied school districts went back to school after Labor Day.
That year, 2% of students nationwide went back to school by August 2. Nearly half (43%) were back in school by the middle of August. This included the majority of students in the interior South (i.e., Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas).
This might explain why I always felt that back-to-school ads were airing too early in the summer. It turns out that for many kids, summer simply ended earlier.
Of course, we probably don’t need those ads airing in late May, as has happened in past years. We should give the kids a break.