The United States remains light-years behind other developed countries when it comes to weeks of paid maternity leave. In fact, Papua New Guinea, Oman and the U.S. are the only countries on the planet that fail to offer some form of paid maternity leave for new mothers. Family friendly policies are important as they allow parents to effectively balance work and home commitments while they have been shown to provide children with a better start in life. “Maternity leave allows mothers to recover from pregnancy and childbirth and to bond with their children”, according to a 2019 UNICEF report that quotes the OECD. It added that “well-paid, protected leave from work helps female employees maintain their earnings and attachment to the labor market, although leave that is too long can have the opposite effect”.
Utilizing Eurostat data along with figures from the OECD, that report named Sweden, Norway and Iceland as the three most family-friendly countries for which data is available. Things look different when it comes to maternity leave which the report defines as a “job-protected leave of absence for employed women, typically starting just before the time of childbirth”. When it comes to weeks of paid full-rate equivalent maternity leave (total length of leave entitlement multiplied by the average wage replacement rate), Estonia is way out in front with 85 weeks. Hungary comes second with 72 weeks while Austria rounds off the top-three with 51 weeks.
While the World Health Organizations recommends a minimum of 16 weeks, the United States comes rock bottom of UNICEF’s report with zero weeks of paid full-rate equivalent maternity leave offered to new mothers. It is important to mention that the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was passed under Bill Clinton which allows new mothers who have worked in an organization with at least 50 employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period to care for a new child.
It should be noted that the FMLA has a list of eligibility conditions such as the employee working 1,250 hours over the past 12 months and that the 50 employees are located within a 75-mile radius. It is also important to note that 12 U.S. states have enacted their own legislation to support mothers while 14 have addressed the above FMLA eligibility requirements. Despite that, there was very little change in the number of U.S. women taking maternity leave over the past two decades, as of 2017.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)