Only 50 Percent of U.S. First-Time Mothers Receive Paid Leave


Written by Mimi Seldner, Ms. Magazine

A new Census Bureau report shows that, from 2001-2008, the percentage of first-time mothers receiving paid leave before and after childbirth leveled off at a mere 50 percent. As usual, the most vulnerable women–low-income women, women of color, young women and less-educated women–had the least access to paid leave.

By the numbers:

  • 50.8 percent: From 2006-2008 , the average percentage of working first-time mothers who took pregnancy or post-partum paid time off. This includes any paid comp time, including vacation and sick days as well as maternity leave.
  • 18 percent: Proportion of first-time mothers without a high school diploma who received paid leave in 2008.
  • 32 percent: Proportion of first-time mothers with just a high school diploma who received paid leave.
  • 4:1: The gap between paid leave eligibility for women who hold college degrees and those who do not; the largest in the 50 years that this data has been tracked.
  • 24 percent: Women under 22 who had access to paid leave. That number jumps to 66 percent for those over 25.
  • 46.6 percent: Hispanic women who received paid leave, the lowest of any group. 

Women with higher birth rates in the U.S. are often younger, less-educated and Hispanic. So, under this system, the women likely to have the most children are also least likely to have paid maternity leave available to them.

Keep in mind, too, that these numbers are pre-recession. Many of the jobs lost [PDF] during the recession were middle-class jobs such as teachers and managers, which are relatively likely to provide paid leave for soon-to-be and new mothers. The jobs added during the recovery process have been largely low-wage, far less likely to offer such paid leave.

In these tough economic times , employers have even less incentive to offer working women paid time off to care for themselves and their newborns. And in these woman-hating political times, the United States has no federal family paid leave plan to compel employers to offer leave (and Congressional attempts to enact one have been shut down).

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


Related Stories:

Overworked, Debt-Laden Gen X Opting For No Kids

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly Tells Off Maternity Leave Critics

Should Multiple Births Mean Multiple Parental Leaves


Photo from IntelGuy via flickr

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

I wonder who answered 'no' to the poll. Romney's supporters?

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago


Shel G.
Shel G.4 years ago

As harsh as they sound, I have to agree with some of the other comments about not subsidizing people's choice to have children. The population is exponentially increasing, and the US has one of the highest birth rates of the so-called "Western" nations. There should be policies in place that encourage people to have fewer children, not more. Why should people who don't have children (that is, those who don't get any maternity/paternity leave) pay higher taxes to subsidize people to have more children, especially those who can't afford to support them? Even if it's not a tax issue, those who don't have kids bear the burden at work of covering for the employees who are absent for maternity or paternity leave.

Bruce S.
Bruce S.4 years ago

Paid maternity leave? Some people just wish they had a PAID job!

Rita White
Rita White4 years ago

some of these comments seem to be very harsh......why are women not using vacation time and the remainder time as short time disability for the usual six weeks off??? The only mandate for their emplyoyer should be a job when they get back.

Shannon G.
Shannon G.4 years ago

Thomas, it would not be government provided it would be tax payer provided. I dont agree with the mandatory breeding age, what right does anyone have to tell someone when they can breed or not? It's a choice and I support that choice, just like I think that you should accept the responsibility of that choice.

Marie W.
Marie W.4 years ago

And most other countries have paid guaranteed maternal leave...

Lesa P.
Lesa P.4 years ago

If women want to work and have children, she should get a short time off with no pay. It's not a necessity. You don't get paid for taking off to go shopping do you? If you're not at work then you shouldn't be getting paid, men and women alike.

Penny C.
Penny C.4 years ago


Thomas Liddle
Thomas Liddle4 years ago

I think Shannon, that it would have to be government provided. The employer certainly can't be expected to shoulder the burden. But then you run into idiots who figure they'll just stay pregnant and never work. If it was done, it would have to be laid out very methodically to avoid abuses.
I stand by my earlier remark on a mandatory minimum breeding age. If you can pop out another little person before you can legally buy cigarettes, consume alcohol or drive, then something is wrong with our priorities.