Friday, July 22, 2011

Around the World: Parental Leave Laws

As part of our ongoing Around the World series, today’s post will explore parental leave laws in several different countries. The birth of a baby is a challenging and extraordinary time for parents. Parents need time to bond with their newborns and new mothers need time for their bodies to recover from the birth. Parental leave laws support new parents in 2 major ways: by providing job-protected leave to care for their infants and financial support during that leave. Unfortunately, not all countries provide paid, job-protected leave. This makes it difficult for parents, who rely on their salary to survive (which is the majority of us!), to be able to stay home during the early postpartum period. However, times are changing; many countries have combined their paternity- and maternity-leave laws into the more general parental leave to allow either one or both parents time at home with their newborns. Most countries provide between 12 weeks and 1 year of paid leave. Let’s look at some examples from around the world.

Maternity Leave Practices: The Numbers

One hundred and seventy eight countries guarantee some paid maternity leave under national law and 101 countries require 14 weeks or more of paid leave for new mothers. The average time new mothers worldwide can take off with pay after giving birth is 18 weeks. Three countries do not have a nationwide laws guaranteeing new mothers any paid time off following the birth of a child—Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States. (Human Rights Watch, 2011)

Now for some specifics by country: the following table provides maternity leave information for countries that represent the majority of our readership. Next to each country we report the number of weeks of maternity leave mothers can qualify for and the % income that the mother receives during that time.
Source: Maternity at Work, ILO, 2010

The United States

As noted above, the United States is one of only 3 countries not offering paid leave at the national level. Some families in the US qualify for job-protected, unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a program that sets minimum standards for parental leave in the United States. However, about 40% of U.S. workers are not eligible for FMLA because employees of small companies (fewer than 50employees) and short-term workers (must be with current employer at least 1 year and must have met a requirement for minimum hours worked) are not included. (Ray 2008) Only about 11% of American employees have the option of taking paid medical leave with only 2 states, California and New Jersey, offering paid leave.

In California, income replacement is available to workers that pay into State Disability Insurance (SDI) through the SDI program and the Paid Family Leave Act (PFLA). There are no additional requirements such as number of hours worked for an employer or size of company. However, those that are self-employed or earn less than $300 per year do not qualify to receive SDI. For more about who qualifies, visit the following website:

In New Jersey, the New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits Law provides up to 6-weeks of cash benefits to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. There are three plans: a state plan, a private plan and an unemployment plan. For more information, click here.

Australia’s New Laws

There are two programs in Australia that provide paid leave to new parents. First, the Australian Government announced a new paid Parental Leave program for Australian families just this month. The program offers 18 weeks of Parental Leave, paid at the National Minimum Wage, for parents of children born or adopted after January 1st, 2011. Only the “primary carer” of the child is eligible for the program, and it is noted that this is usually the mother. Other special circumstances will be considered on a case by case basis. Secondly, there is a Baby Bonus available to all workers with an adjusted taxable income of less than or equal to $75,000. A first installment of $879.77 is paid to parents initially followed by approximately $379.77every 2 weeks for 12 weeks.) If parents qualify for the Baby Bonus, they cannot receive both the bonus and parental leave; they must choose one of the two. For more information, click here.

Norway: The Most Family-Friendly Laws Worldwide

Parental leave laws in Norway provide 42 weeks at 100% pay or 52 weeks at 80% pay and the mother and father can choose to share the leave period with a few stipulations: 3 weeks before delivery and 6 weeks after delivery are reserved for the mother and 4 weeks are reserved for the father. The rest of the leave can be used by either parent. Norway tops the list of family-friendly places to live providing 4 weeks paid paternity leave starting in 1993. Only 2.4% of Norwegian fathers took leave in 1992, but by 1997, over 70% of fathers took paternity leave. Each parent is also entitled to up to 1 year of unpaid leave per child, and this is extended to up to 2 years for a single parent. (ILO study, Gender Equality and Decent Work: Good Practices at the Workplace) Other countries are stepping up to the plate to provide parental leave for fathers too. Currently 31 countries require 14 weeks or more of paid leave for new fathers. (Human Rights Watch, 2011)
Most Scandinavian countries also offer other progressive ideas such as "daddy leave," guaranteed rights to childcare, and cash payments for home-based care.

Importance of Family Leave Laws

Countries that have parental leave programs show increased productivity, reduced turnover of employees, and even health care savings. Paid parental leave laws enable more parents to stay home and care for their infants during a vital time in their infants’ growth and development and supports parents that want to return to the workforce following this time. As we look into the future, we hope that soon parents everywhere will be supported by leave laws so that they can spend the precious newborn period and beyond with their babies while maintaining their employment.

References & Resources:

Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality. By: Rebecca Ray, Janet C. Gornick and John Schmitt (September 2008).

Gender Equality and Decent Work: Good Practices at the Workplace. Maternity Protection International Labour Organization Convention No. 183, 2004.

MATERNITY AT WORK: A review of national legislation Findings from the ILO Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws. 2nd edition, 2010.

Failing Its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the US, Human Rights Watch, 2011.


  1. That's incorrect for Canada. We get a year off...

    "55% up to $468/week for 50 weeks (15 weeks maternity + 35 weeks parental leave shared with father)"


  2. Not sure why the New Zealand table says the entitlement is 0. Working women (or their partners-it's fully shareable) are entitled to 14 weeks at a flat paid rate and up to 52 weeks unpaid.

  3. Thanks so much for letting us know! We're relying on published documents that may be out-of-date (or wrong!). We're glad to see that Canada and New Zealand are so supportive of parents during those all-important first weeks.

  4. Ireland: 26 weeks with maternity benefit approx 260 euro/wk (can be topped up by employer, but this is not a requirement). This can be followed by an additional of 16 weeks of unpaid leave.

  5. in germany, new mothers are not allowed to work for a certain amount of time before due date (forgot how long it is, 4weeks i guess) and 6 weeks after birth. they are "paid" then by health insurance. they can apply for 12months (minus the 6 weeks) of paid leave at about 60% of their previous income, but a max of 1800euros/month. fathers can share this time at the same conditions, plus the total leave time prolongs to 14months if the father tskes the parental leave as well. parents have the right for an unpaid leave (securef job) for another 2ys in the first 6ys of the childs life. or so i remember it, because i worked freelance before my 2nd child and therefore had some other arrangements...

  6. Québec is different form rest of Canada for maternity/parental leave :

  7. Just another voice to say the Canadian stat is incorrect. We get about 1 year, although technically it is divided into "maternity leave" and "parental leave" - there are, however, no mandatory breaks between the two. As a mother I am entitled to leave my job for ~1 year with 55% pay and my job is held for at least that duration.

  8. As much as I'd love to see more and paid leave in the US, everything comes with a price. I wonder what the tax burden is to pay for these benefits in these other countries. I also wonder if women of childbearing age had problems finding employment when countries increased these benefits. I'm not trying to argue but these are just somethings I've thought about when trying to balance my politically active side with my "lactivist" side.

  9. In France we have at least 6 weeks before the due date + 10 weeks after paid by Social Security. It's more if you have twins (12+22) or triplets (24 + 22),etc...
    If we already have 2 children it's 26 weeks of maternity leave.
    They're all paid based on your salary.

    Than depending on where you work you can have up to 6 months of maternity leave paid by the employer (mine was paid 75% of my last salary).

    And finally, after your maternity leave, you can ask for a parental leave, not paid by the employer or SS but by the CAF (social organism dedicated to help families and housing situations), up to 3 years, and, depending on your situation (spouse salary and number of kids) you can have up to 850 euros (around 1200 USD) per months to help you raise your 3 children. And you job is held during the same time.

  10. I am Norwegian and I pay my taxes happily. Most people pay approximately 30% of their income in taxes. For that we get this fabulous parental leave (in 2014 it's 49 weeks with 100% salary), free schools, free universities, free health care, cheap preschools, fully paid sick leave from day 1 of illness, social security money if you're between jobs, and much more.

    So to the commenter afraid of the price of heigtened taxes: I find it definitely worth the price as it gives me chance to focus on the important aspects of life without the stress of wondering if I can afford being sick, having a child, losing my job, paying for my kids' college degrees etc.