December 12, 2013

Among 38 nations, U.S. is the outlier when it comes to paid parental leave

FT_13.12.11_parentalLeaveWomen’s labor force participation has surged in recent decades, driven largely by increases in labor force participation among women with young children, according to a new Pew Research Center report. At the same time, fathers—virtually all of whom are in the labor force—are also taking on more child care responsibilities, as fatherhood has grown to encompass far more than just bringing home the bacon.

Despite these transformations, the U.S. government support for working parents remains very limited, compared with 37 other nations, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The chart shows the number of weeks of federally-protected time off, as well as the amount of time off that is paid in full, available to employed new mothers in each country. The bars combine both maternity leave and parental leave (which is available to either a new mother or a new father).

The data do not address paid leave or other accommodations that individual employers make available to employees or guarantees provided by a few individual states.

Of the 38 countries represented, the U.S. is the only one that does not mandate any paid leave for new mothers. In comparison, Estonia offers about two years of paid leave, and Hungary and Lithuania offer one-and-a-half years or more of fully-paid leave. The median amount of fully-paid time off available to a mom for the birth of a child is about five-to-six months. 

In the vast majority of countries offering paid time off, the government is footing the bill, though in some cases employers are required to pony up, as well.

Then, there’s also protected leave, which essentially allows new parents to be away from their job to care for their baby, without fear of losing that job. Along with Mexico, the U.S. offers the smallest amount of leave protection related to the birth of a child among these 38 countries—12 weeks. In the U.S., this is a result of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which was enacted in 1993, and guarantees job security for those who have been employed for at least a year, and who work for an organization with 50 or more employees.

At the other end of the spectrum, Poland, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, France and Finland offer three years or more of protection for leave related to motherhood. The median amount of protected leave for new mothers among these countries is about 13 months.

While not represented in this graphic, 25 of these countries also offer guaranteed paternity leave—leave that is specifically available for new fathers. Norway, Ireland, Iceland, Slovenia, Sweden and Germany all offer eight weeks or more of protected paternity leave, and with the exception of Ireland these countries also mandate that a portion of this time off be paid.

For the most part, though, paternity leave, where available, is more modest—in Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, South Korea, Austria and Hungary paternity leave is guaranteed for one week or less.

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment

  1. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

    is a senior researcher focusing on fertility and family demographics at Pew Research Center.


  1. Penny2 years ago

    Hmm. Europe is now in recession, with just about all its countries having higher unemployment and slower growth then the US. There does seem to be a correlation between slow or zero growth and paid parental leave, n’est-ce pas?

  2. Jessica Pasa2 years ago

    Is there an organization or movement supporting fair parental leave in California? We need to ban together to fight for the right of every mother and father to care for their babies in at least the first months of life.

  3. John Doe2 years ago

    K. Brown: Plenty of those countries have healthier economies than the US does. That, despite the fact that most of them do not place paramount importance on economic growth. They prefer to balance growth with social protections and quality of life considerations for all. One of the lessons from the last economic crisis should be that balance is important. The developed countries that weathered the crisis the best were the relatively well run social-democracies of northern Europe and Canada. Countries that, for starters, regulate their banks more to prevent excesses and have social protections in place for citizens who do find themselves unemployed during a crisis. Not to mention they treat healthcare as a basic right and a public service and not as a profit center.

    My biggest complaint about my fellow Americans is that we are too insular. We refuse to look around the world for ideas on how to improve and when ideas are presented to us we dismiss them as inferior because it’s not the American way.

    Take health care. America is the ONLY developed country in the world that doesn’t have a single-payer, universal health care system. I have lived in several other countries, all of whom have universal health care. There is no healthcare debate in those countries. There is nobody trying to implement an American style, private, for profit healthcare system. The only discussion is how to make their already great system even better. People don’t have to spend huge sums on private health insurance. They can spend it elsewhere, thus increasing consumption and economic activity. They don’t have to stay in low paid jobs or pass up on new opportunities because they now have a medical condition that will disqualify them from getting new health insurance through their new employer. Universal healthcare is not a drag on the economic activity and mobility, private, for-profit healthcare is.

    The subject of this article is maternity leave. I have lived in one of the countries near the top of this list. It has a strong economy. I never heard anybody complain that the maternity leave was too generous and it was a drag on the economy. I have also lived in the region that is almost always rated as the free-est free market in the world. Even they give 10 weeks fully paid maternity leave. The only complaints I heard while living there was that 10 weeks wasn’t enough.

    The rich right in the US want us all to believe that anything that restricts their ability to do whatever they want will hurt the economy. That’s total BS. The rich don’t drive the economy. Big business doesn’t drive the economy it’s a leech on the economy. Big businesses use their leverage to extract major lease, tax and other concessions from local and state governments in order to open factories/stores in their areas and “create jobs”. That’s not job creation, that’s job redistribution. Taking jobs from one place in the US and moving them somewhere else. They then use the huge economic advantage they have negotiated to suppress wages and benefits for their workers. When a company like Walmart opens a store in a small town, most of the other retailers go out of business. All the workers have nowhere else to go so Walmart can pay whatever they want.

    The economy is driven by small business and middle class consumption. The current attack on the middle class is only going to hasten the demise of the US as a global economic power.

  4. Steven Collins2 years ago

    I find it odd that on one hand I hear daily about family values, and how the family is the key to raising kids right. Heard about single parent households, especially in the AA community that is directly attributable to higher incarceration rates etc. On the other hand, we do absolutely NOTHING to promote birth rates or reinforce the family in congress or locally. Makes us seem kinda hypocritical to me.

    1. Matt2 years ago

      The only thing I disagree with in your statement is the word “kinda”.

  5. gwg3 years ago

    I believe the US is also the only country with no legally-mandated paid holiday. I guess there’s no time for time off if you’re pursuing the American dream… ugh.

  6. Eugenia Kaneshige3 years ago

    We’re also an outlier when it comes to being an economic power. How many U.S. citizens applied for Estonia citizenship in this century?

    1. Buck2 years ago

      Eugenia K: Which makes it all the more shameful that US corporations provide such poor worker benefits.

  7. wwmike3 years ago

    this must be one of those things that makes us “the greatest” nation. Just joking.

  8. K Brown3 years ago

    Interesting article, The chart seems to show that government “protections” or involvement in private lives may have a snuffing effect on national economies.