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Parental leave: How rich countries compare

How family-friendly are wealthy countries in the OECD and the EU? A new report has compiled interesting data on what paid leave is offerered to new mothers and fathers.

Which nations offer the best maternity and paternity leave allowances? A new report from Unicef has examined family-related policies and take-up rates in the world’s wealthiest countries. The study looks at the amount of parental leave on full pay, as well as the provision of childcare services.

Surprising no one, the Nordic countries rank highest when all categories are considered. In Norway and Sweden, almost all fathers take some parental leave, according to Anna Gromada of Unicef’s Office of Research – Innocenti, who co-authored the report. But when it comes to parental leave, the top performer is Estonia, which provides the longest stretch of job-protected maternal leave (85 weeks at the full-rate equivalent).

In some places parental leave allowances may be generous but take-up rates remain low. Japan offers 30 weeks of paid leave for fathers, by far the most of all the countries studied. Yet very few fathers (1 in 20 in 2017) actually use it. In South Korea, which has the second longest period of paternity leave, men only made up 17% of all parents taking leaving in 2018, even after a national campaign encouraging them to do so. British fathers also rarely take up shared parental leave.

Some countries don’t even have much in the way of policy. Switzerland is among the wealthy countries that don’t provide any father-specific leave. “We see no relationship between a country’s wealth and how it’s doing on family-friendly policies,” Gromada emphasises.

The real outlier in terms of parental leave is the US. “The US is the only high-income country in the world that doesn’t offer even a single day of maternity leave,” Gromada says. Individual companies might provide some form of parental leave, but there are no statutory requirements. Unicef recommends nations provide six months of statutory paid leave for parents.  

With all that in mind, how do the countries compare? Take a look at the chart below to find out. 

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