September 26, 2016

Among 41 nations, U.S. is the outlier when it comes to paid parental leave

In almost half of two-parent households, both parents now work full-time, and in 40% of all families with children, the mother is the sole or primary breadwinner. At the same time, fathers – virtually all of whom are in the labor force – are 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. is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate any paid leave for new parents, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The smallest amount of paid leave required in any of the other 40 nations is about two months.

In comparison, Estonia offers more than a year and a half of paid leave to new parents – by far the highest benefit mandated by any of the countries represented. A number of other countries – Bulgaria, Hungary, Japan, Lithuania, Austria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Norway and Slovakia – offer over a year’s worth of paid leave, as well.

The total amount of leave available to new parents can be comprised of several types of leave: maternity leave, available to mothers around the time of a birth or adoption; paternity leave, available to fathers around the time of a birth or adoption; and parental leave, which is typically available after maternity or paternity leave. In some cases, parental leave is allocated for mothers only or for fathers only. In other cases, it is available to either parent.

In 19 of 41 countries, the majority of all paid leave available is allocated for maternity leave. In fact, in six countries – Cyprus, Israel, Turkey, Ireland, Switzerland and New Zealand – maternity leave accounts for all available paid leave related to the birth or care of a child. No leave is available for new fathers.

While paid leave is dominated by leave for mothers, leave earmarked specifically for fathers is now available in 31 of the 41 countries represented in the data. In most cases, the amount of paid leave specifically for fathers is relatively modest – about two weeks or less. However, there are a handful of exceptions. In Japan, almost half of all of the available paid leave for new parents – 30 weeks – is earmarked for new fathers; and in Korea, men are allotted the equivalent of about 16 weeks of paid leave. Portugal, Norway, Luxembourg and Iceland are also relatively generous in this regard, mandating about two months of leave or more for new dads.

These estimates are based upon a “full-rate equivalent.” This measure is calculated by the OECD as the total number of weeks of any paid leave available to a new parent, multiplied by the average rate of earnings reimbursement for those weeks of leave. (While many countries reimburse about 100% of average earnings, particularly for maternity leave, in other paid leave situations, less than 30% of average earnings are reimbursed.)

In most countries, a social-security-type system is used to fund the paid time off, though in a small share of cases, the employer also foots part of the bill, as well. It’s important to note that while the U.S. is the only country that does not have a national paid leave mandate, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all have state-mandated paid leave plans in place. Some businesses across the U.S. offer paid family leave to their employees without being required to do so, as well.

Note: This is an updated version of a post originally published on Dec. 12, 2013. 

Topics: Gender, Work and Employment, Family and Relationships, Family Roles, Parenthood, Household and Family Structure

  1. Photo of Gretchen Livingston

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


  1. Anonymous10 months ago

    Missing a lot of countries who I am positive do not have paid parental leave. If they have leave at all.

    1. Gretchen Livingston10 months ago

      This analysis is based upon data from OECD nations, as well as a few additional European nations that were also included in the OECD analysis.
      In other research examining 185 countries worldwide, the International Labor Organization found that the U.S. and Papua New Guinea were the only two nations that lacked any paid parental leave.

  2. Anonymous10 months ago

    State of Washington does pay “paid family benefits ” and California was the first in the nation to implement, the paid family leave program.. the federal government also implemented the Family Medical Leave Act.. FMLA,, to protect new parents’ jobs.. it is a job protection law,. Where as some states also mandated paternal leave benefits to be paid to those who qualify..

    Kevork boghossian

  3. Anonymous10 months ago

    should be made clear that these 41 countries are OECD countries (i.e. developed) plus a few non-OECD countries – otherwise it looks like an arbitrary choosing of 41 countries

  4. Anonymous10 months ago

    Any time an employee, male or female, is off work with pay, it is a loss and inefficiency. I understand training a fill-in for a temporary period of time which is expensive, or others sharing the workload is a burden on the others.

    It used to be that grandparents willingly and gladly performed childcare when a newborn arrived. We all agree that a mother of a new-born must need a long recovery time, 3 to 6 months. This cannot be fully loaded onto the firm. The parents must share. And rightly so, some USA companies allow a reasonable paid-days.

    While I fully agree the concept of paid leave for the new mother, not sure why such is required for the new father. When my son was born, my wife had a generous days of paid-leave. I did not have any, so I took a couple of days of vacation time. And, in our case, it was tough because, being a legal immigrant at that time, we did not have the much-needed support of friends and family. We survived.

  5. 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?

  6. Jessica Pasa3 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.

  7. John Doe3 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.

  8. Steven Collins3 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. Matt3 years ago

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

  9. gwg4 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.

  10. Eugenia Kaneshige4 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. Buck3 years ago

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

  11. wwmike4 years ago

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

  12. K Brown4 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.