Fast Facts: Maternity leave policies across the globe

The United States is in small company when it comes to new parent policies
January 23, 2018

Out of 193 countries in the United Nations, only a small handful do not have a national paid parental leave law: New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific island nations and the United States.

This has many experts and advocates in the United States campaigning for paid parental leave.

Parental leave map

What is current U.S. policy?

Currently, the United States offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for mothers, but this can prove to be a problem for low-income new parents, if a baby is born prematurely or requires an extended hospital stay. More generally, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of job-protected time off equally to many American moms and dads. People caring for a sick parent or even themselves during a long illness may also qualify.

What is the norm across the world?

Maternity leave has been a practice as early as the 1800s and covered a minimum of 14 weeks of leave, paid at two-thirds of the worker’s salary, up to a cap. Today, more than 50 countries offer six months or more of paid maternity leave, with many even offering paid paternal leave for 14 weeks or more.

In Sweden, the government provides almost 16 months of paid leave to be used between two parents however they choose. In Canada, employees must work a certain amount of time to have paid maternity leave, and the government offers paid leave for one or both parents through Canada’s employment insurance plan.

Is the United States an outlier? 

Yes, the United States is the only high-income country, as classified by the World Bank, that does not have paid maternity leave.

The United States and Suriname are the only countries in the western hemisphere that don’t offer any paid leave for either parent.

Over half of the countries in the Americas offer paid maternity leave, and 43 percent offer paid time off to both parents—which means that there is leave available for either parent to take, whether it is through maternity or paternity leave specifically for mothers and fathers, gender-neutral parental leave that can be used by either parent, or a combination of these types of leave.

— Dominic Hernandez

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