The new maternity leave infographic by ThinkProgress is awesome and informative, yet ultimately depressing. Not that this is ground breaking depressing news, but we do love how point blank the statistics look in this colorful map. In case you didn’t know, for years the United States has held the distinction of being the one and only industrialized nation in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave for parents of newborns. We earned this discouraging space in the world back in June 2010 when Australia passed a maternity leave law guaranteeing many parents 18 weeks of maternity leave at the federal minimum wage. Australia had been resisting paid leave for a long while, but finally got on board, and when they did, the U.S. was left alone in their horrid treatment of new parents. Basically, if you’re considering raising a family in the U.S., good luck getting any sort of financial support.
How the Rest of the World Handles Maternity Leave
Obviously the U.S. is not the only location on the planet with sucky maternity paid leave laws, but we’re one of just a few. In one report the International Labour Organization (ILO) looked at 167 countries and found that 97% offer some sort of paid leave to parents. The exceptions are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and yup, the United States. On top of this insanity, the laws the U.S. does have in place to protect new parents are super shabby. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) U.S. workers are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for newborn care. However, anyone working for someone with fewer than 50 paid employees is exempt and just 17% of U.S. workers report access to actual paid leave via company choice to offer it. In other countries, families fare far better. For example…
- In Norway parents are offered a “time account” which allows them to take partial parental leave combined with reduced working hours for a period up to two years.
- Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Panama and Venezuela provide at least 14 weeks of leave paid at 100% of prior earnings.
- Both Mexico and Pakistan, places you wouldn’t expect, offer 12 weeks paid leave for mothers.
- In Mongolia, mothers and single fathers are entitled to paid leave until the child is three and to additional breaks for childcare or feeding.
- In Austrila, if you don’t qualify for paid leave, you may qualify for a baby bonus of $5000.
- Thailand offers 100% paid wages for the first 45 days of maternity leave and 50% for the remaining 45 days.
- Chile and France have innovative workplace models in place that revolve around financial support through childcare allowances, vouchers and tax savings for working parents.
- Among the 11 Middle Eastern countries, 2 offer wages within ILO standards, with Iran providing for four months (if breastfeeding) and two-thirds of prior earnings and Syria providing for 120 days and 100% of earnings while the rest of the remaining countries provide 100% of earnings, although for fewer than 14 weeks.
- Amazingly, a number of places, including Finland, Libya, Portugal, Spain and Sweden even include self-employed women within the scope of maternity benefits.
Recommended Maternity Leave Rules
Conclusions gleamed at the 98th International Labour Conference in June 2009 pointed out that strengthened maternity protection is key to gender equality at work and helps promote healthy women and babies. ILO notes that leave should be a bare minimum of 14 weeks and that cash benefits need to be at a level which ensures that any woman can maintain herself and her child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living. Other recommendations point out that maternity protection for women workers contributes to the overall health and well-being of mothers and their babies, thus protects overall health for countries on a larger scale. ILO notes that the key elements of any decent maternity protection laws should consist of the following…
- At least 14 weeks maternity leave.
- Paid cash benefits to ensure the mother can support herself and her child during leave.
- Access to proper medical care.
- Protection of the health of pregnant and breastfeeding women and their children from workplace risks.
- Protection from dismissal and discrimination due to pregnancy or newborn care.
- Breastfeeding rights in the workplace.
The United States meets exactly zero of the above recommendations. That’s just sad. If you want to make a positive difference for families in the U.S., it’s best to get involved at the state level. Some states, including California, New Jersey and Washington have already enacted paid leave laws. You can also sign the Working Mother’s petition and check out the best U.S. companies for working women. If you’re an employer read how to create a maternity leave plan.
Lead Image Infographic by ThinkProgress