It’s no secret that the United States falls way behind the rest of the world when it comes to parental leave (maternity leave and paternity leave) policies. The fact is, we don’t have them. Period. According to a study by the International Labour Organization published in 2014, the US is the only country among developed nations that does not mandate maternity benefits.1 The. Only. Country. Let that sink in for a moment.
One doesn’t have to travel too far from home to get parental benefits. Our neighbors to the north offer new parents paid leave; standard parental benefits in Canada include 55% of “average weekly insurable earnings” for up to 35 weeks after birth or adoption, and “extended” parental benefits – 33% of earnings – can be paid for up to for 61 weeks. Jobs are protected during this time (meaning there is no danger of losing the job while away), and these weeks can be split between the parents. Starting in 2017, up to 12 weeks of that time can be used prior to the baby’s arrival date.2
In Mexico, women get 12 weeks paid at 100% of their previous earnings, and their jobs are protected. There is no mandate for paternity leave, however.1
I asked my friend, who had her first two children in London, about her opinion on the lack of policy in the US. Her take? “I think it’s shocking.” She then shared her personal experience with me. She took 7 months off with her first child and 11 months after the second…. while she was in residency (medical training)! I couldn’t believe it. It put my measly 3 months to shame. Legally, she was able to take up to one year off. “Most people I know take a year,” she says. She received 2 months off with full pay, followed by 4 months at 50% pay from her employer. Then she was able to receive government funding of approximately $100 per week for up to another 6 months. “It takes 3 months just to start feeling human again,” she says. Yeah, tell me about it! I couldn’t agree more.
I wanted to take a look at the countries with the “best” maternity leave policies, but obviously, one’s opinion of the “best” maternal leave policy is subjective. Think about it this way: would you prefer 52 weeks of time off at half-pay? Or two-thirds pay? Or would you prefer less time off at full pay? Another thing to consider is the source of those funds, in other words, who is paying you while you’re on maternity leave. Should it be the government, your employer, or a fund you paid taxes into? Or some combination of those?
I’ll let you be the judge on what the “right” answer is, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some countries with favorable policies:
- Australia: 52 weeks with pay of 100% of previous earnings
- Bulgaria: 32 weeks at 90%
- Croatia: 6 months at 100% followed by flat rate (total of 58 weeks)
- Czech Republic: 28 weeks at 70%
- Hungary: 24 weeks at 70%
- Ireland: 26 weeks at 80% plus 16 weeks unpaid (total of 42 weeks)
- Montenegro: 52 weeks at 100%
- Poland: 26 weeks at 100%
- Slovakia: 34 weeks at 65%
- United Kingdom: 6 weeks at 90% followed by flat rate (total of 52 weeks)
Throughout the world, the amount of time off varies. Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the highest average mandated duration of maternity leave. But there are several developed countries that continue to pay women their full wages during maternity leave, including (but not limited to):
- New Zealand
- Viet Nam
*up to a ceiling.
In summary, the United States has a long way to go if we’re going to catch up with the rest of the developed world. One could argue that women are being treated unfairly in the workplace simply due to their due to reproductive role. If you’re so compelled, feel free to call your local representative or legislator to ask what he or she is doing about paid family leave.
- International Labour Office. Maternity and paternity at work: law and practice across the world.
- Government of Canada. Employment Insurance Maternity and Paternity Benefits.