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School start dates before Labor Day affect family travel, U of M study says

July 31, 2012

A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota Tourism Center examined how travel patterns among households with school-aged children change when school starts before Labor Day. The results provide missing data for policy makers as they consider ending the mandate that school districts start after Labor Day in Minnesota.

The study finds that:

  • Family trips of two or more nights away from home decreased by 50 percent in August or September when school starts were moved to before Labor Day. 
  • Family overnight travel throughout the season—from May through September—decreased by 30 percent when school starts were moved to before Labor Day.

This suggests that when school starts before Labor Day, some families forgo summer trips, whereas others simply travel earlier in the season.

Data for the study was drawn from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), a national study sponsored by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey is designed to describe how Americans use time on a daily basis. While past studies have asked hypothetical questions about travel, the Tourism Center study examined actual travel behavior of families in five states.

This study compared ATUS data about travel in Minnesota, Virginia, Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin as they transitioned in and out of school calendar or policy changes. Steps were taken to assure that the behavior change was attributed to school start times, rather than other conditions. For example, the study found that families without children who were from similar demographic and economic groups showed no difference in travel when school starts date changed.

The report, authored by Elton Mykerezi of the U of M Department of Applied Economics and Genti Kostandini of the University of Georgia, notes that school districts want flexibility in start dates due to a  variety of concerns, such as the need for time to prepare students for testing. Mykerezi says arguments against earlier start dates come from those concerned about the value of family leisure time, as well from members of the tourism and hospitality industry concerned that a pre-Labor Day start will hurt tourism by reducing family travel.

“Policy makers considering school start dates are weighing important matters for the public good,” says Ingrid Schneider, Director of the University of Minnesota Tourism Center. “Everyone wants strong educational outcomes, and the tourism industry wants to remain a successful economic force. We wanted to bring objective and comparative data to this issue.”

The Carlson Chair for Travel, Tourism & Hospitality was the study’s fiscal sponsor. To view the report, visit

The University of Minnesota Tourism Center is a collaboration of University of Minnesota Extension and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. For more information on the Tourism Center, visit

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