With the host of issues facing America right now, maternity leave remains a major one. But it says something that in all the developed world, the United States ranks on the very bottom of the list of countries with the best maternity leave laws, according to CNN. There is some stiff competition to up the game — Canada, Sweden, and Japan all provide about a year of paid leave. The Czech Republic provides two years. Finland, Slovakia and Estonia all provide three years of paid leave. Three years.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) is a group that monitors and catalogs stats on maternal leave policies. And what its data teaches is that what comes with the time is just as important as the time itself. For example, according to the OCED, Australia provides 18 weeks of paid leave but only pays an average of 42 percent of wages. And, its report shows, there is no provision for what's called "paid parental and home care leave available to mothers." That is time that can be taken by mom, or split between mom and dad. (Some countries also offer protected paternity leave that is only applicable to fathers, according to the OCED.)
Using information adjusted to put the OCED's findings together into one valuation, here are the nations that provide the best maternity leave protections when time off and pay rates are combined.
Estonia, located just west of Russia, provides 166 weeks of leave at 51 percent of wages, or the equivalent of 85 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. The government pays the wages during the leave and when the mother returns to work she is allowed one-hour breaks for breastfeeding, according to Wage Indicator, a nonprofit group that seeks to provide transparency on wages and labor conditions.
The country recently provided more access to time off for fathers. In a press release the Minister for Social Protection Kaia Iva said, "The contributions of the father to raising a small child strengthen relations within the family and add a sense of security — that raising the child will not be left only to the mother," according to ERR News.
In Hungary, a mother is allowed 160 weeks of leave at 44 percent of wages or the equivalent of 71 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. A benefit called Child Home Care Allowance is available for parents or grandparents taking care of a child up until the age of 3, according to AngloInfo.
Bea, a blogger and mother living in Hungary, wrote on her site, MamaExpatriada.com, "People around here often complain that the money is not good enough but I always try to point out that in other countries you do not even get any money or worse: you are not entitled to have a proper maternity at all."
Bulgaria — which has struggled with falling birth rates, according to the BBC — works hard to support families. They provide 110 weeks of leave at 59 percent of wages or the equivalent of 65 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. Pregnant women are required to begin their leave 45 days before the expected due date, according to a Bulgarian law firm.
The Czech Republic is a small country, just over 10 million people according to the United Nations, but it still provides well for new moms. They're entitled to 110 weeks of leave at 48 percent of wages or the equivalent of 53 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. The law requires that parents with children or even other family responsibilities be given part-time or flexible-time work options, according to Wage Indicator.
Increased provisions were recently added to give new fathers more time off after birth or adoption. “No one will force new fathers to take it,” the deputy labor minister told Bloomberg. “But it's pretty nice for fathers who want it. It gives them an opportunity to spend time with their family and with their newly born child right from the beginning.”
Latvia is a nation struggling with attrition. Since joining the EU in 2003, it has seen more than one-fifth of its population leave for more prosperous European countries, according to Politico. One way to help stem the tide might be through its generous maternal leave policy, which provides 94 weeks of leave at 56 percent of wages or the equivalent of 53 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. Maternity benefits can be granted to the father if the mother dies in childbirth or chooses not to care for the child, according to Wage Indicator.
Since Slovakia was formed in 1993 after a split with the Czech Republic, the nation has struggled with an up-and-down economy, according to the World Data Atlas. It's made an effort to provide stability for families though, in part through a maternal leave policy of 164 weeks of leave at 32 percent of wages or the equivalent of 53 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. If a woman is a single mother she is entitled to three additional weeks and if she is taking care of two children she is entitled to nine additional weeks, according to the European Commission.
One of the most beautiful countries in the world is also one of the wealthiest, as ranked by Business Insider. That strong economic position has allowed them to set up a maternal leave system that provides 60 weeks of leave at 85 percent of wages, or the equivalent of 51 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. The parental leave entitlement is for the whole family, so parents can switch out who is on leave, according to Wage Indicator.
A land of extremes of temperatures and daylight hours has sought to provide some stability for families though generous maternal leave policy. Norway provides 91 weeks of leave at 49 percent of wages or the equivalent of 45 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. Parental leave benefits also cover adoptions, according to the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Service. The tough land and life has created some longstanding traditions that lean toward male dominance, but "there’s a lot of work going on to change that,” Kristin Skogen Lund, leader of a national employers organization, told news site News In English.
Slovenia has the smallest gender wage-gap in the world, just 3.2 percent when measured in 2015, according to The Telegraph. It also provides 52 weeks of leave at 93 percent of wages, or the equivalent of 48 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. If the mother is under 18 and is a student the maternity leave benefits can be switched to the father, according to the Slovenian Ministry of Labor. The country has run a certification program since 2007 that acknowledges companies that are deemed family-friendly. In these companies executives get creative about rewarding employees and see them as long-term investments. "[T]op management start to think of employees as partners and a long term investment, rather than just another cost," Ales Kranjc Kuslan, director of Ekvilib Institute, told The Guardian.
One of the world's oldest cultures, Finland works hard to provide well for its families. New mothers are allowed 161 weeks of leave at 25 percent of wages or the equivalent of 40 weeks at full salary, according to the OCED. Parents can switch who is watching the child on a weekly or daily basis, or even morning to afternoon, according to the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs. Tourism website This is Finland admits that Fins pay a lot in taxes, but get a lot of value returned. "Families with children are especially well taken care of by society, and their lives are made easier by the many types of support and benefits available."
The benefits of paid time off have been proven. One study in Australia, published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, found that mothers receive a mental health boost from having the time while also knowing they had at least some income. The benefits increased with job responsibilities, with women in professional and managerial positions showing the greatest result.
The New York Times also found that generous maternity leave is good for the economy. The publication reported that California mothers who took maternity leave were 6 percent more likely to be still be employed in a year. In New Jersey, mothers who took leave were 40 percent less likely to be on welfare or receiving food stamps, The New York Times reported.
So why doesn't the United States mandate paid maternity leave? It's incredibly complicated, as NPR reported:
The aftermath of World War II, business lobbying, a diminished American labor movement, and the American love of individualism and bootstrap-pulling all have combined to help keep the U.S. alone in not giving its workers paid leave.
One key factor however is the overwhelming support is America for small businesses, who might be unable to bear the economic costs of paying for maternity leave. That argument has a lot of opposition, however. As Think Growth pointed out it can cost more — up to 150 percent — to replace a worker, so it might be more cost effective to pay for maternity leave and keep skilled and experienced employees.
More and more large companies are starting to join the movement. Lowes just recently announced a new policy of 10 weeks of paid maternity leave. The New York Times also lists 19 more of the countries biggest companies that have paid leave policies, such as IBM (20 weeks), Walmart (16 weeks), and Amazon (14 weeks). And while President Donald Trump's new tax bill did little to help mandate paid maternity leave, at least the issue has risen to the level of national debate.
In the meantime we now know there are some lovely countries in Eastern Europe that have found ways to support families and keep the economy going. Anyone know a good realtor?
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.