Is Family Really First? US Lags Behind Other Nations in Providing Paid Parental Leave

The US lags far behind other nations in guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers and fathers according to Failing its Families, a new study by Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.


How far behind?

At least 178 countries have laws ensuring that women who have just given birth have maternity leave. The US—and Papua New Guinea and Swaziland—does not. Also, more than 50 nations provide paid leave for new fathers but, again, the US is not among them. In contrast, new parents in Malta are eligible for 14 weeks of paid leave while those in Sweden can have up to 16 months, with two months reserved for new father.

While there have been legislative efforts in the US to provide for paid parental leave following the birth of a child, there have not gone far: Lobbyists for businesses have said—without regard for the stress and challenges a baby can have on new parents anxious to keep their jobs—that such laws would be a ‘burden’ on employees. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act does let workers with new children or seriously ill family members take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, it excludes companies with fewer than 50 employees, and so, as the New York Times notes, ‘covers only about half the work force, and many who are covered cannot afford to take unpaid leave.’

Says Walsh: “Despite its enthusiasm about ‘family values,’ the U.S. is decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families….Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this.”

Indeed: As notes, there are numerous harmful consequences’ without such leave, including postpartum depression. Mothers unable to take paid leave may give up breast-feeding early. And, as Human Rights Watch says: 

Many who took unpaid leave went into debt and some were forced to seek public assistance. Some women said employer bias against working mothers derailed their careers. Same-sex parents were often denied even unpaid leave.

Only California and New Jersey currently paid-leave programs. These are financed entirely through workers making small payroll tax contributions and provide six weeks of paid leave for workers ‘taking time off to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill child, spouse or parent.’ More details from the New York Times:

New Jersey’s program started in July 2009 and its balance as of Dec. 31 was $39 million — robust enough so the state recently reduced workers’ contribution by half. The maximum annual payment is now less than $18 instead of more than $35. 

Through December, New Jersey had approved 44,972 claims — 91 percent of those filed — and paid out $105 million in benefits at an average of $471 a week. 

California’s program began in 2004 and is run by the State Disability Insurance plan, which collects 1.1 percent of pay from 13 million eligible workers. In 2009-10, the state paid out $469 million for 180,675 claims, with an average weekly benefit of $488. 

In New Jersey, men make up about 12 percent of the parents seeking paid leave to bond with a new child. In California, men’s share of the leave has risen from 17 percent to 26 percent since 2004. 

In each state, some business leaders remain unenthusiastic, though there is no clamor to repeal the programs.

Last week we held a ‘transition meeting‘ for my autistic son Charlie: As he is turning 14 years old in May, we have to start thinking about what he will be doing  work-wise and life-wise after he finishes school at the age of 21. However, his school’s transition coordinator was not at the meeting as he is on part-time paternity leave. It would have been great for him to have been at Charlie’s meeting, but I was very much cheered to know that the coordinator could take such leave: I’ll always remember how exhausting, and crazy, and precious, the first several weeks of Charlie’s infancy were. My husband Jim is a professor so his work schedule of teaching and advising has always been very flexible, a huge advantage in taking care of a new baby; as we were living in a city (St. Louis, Missouri) where we had no family, it was even more important that Jim could be home so much.

And I really think that all new parents, women and definitely men, should have access to such a necessary benefit; to such a right.


Previous Care2 Coverage

New Policy Would Let British Dads Use Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave or Vacation Time?: Study Shows that Women Without Children Also Want Leave

Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees

Photo by quinn.anya.


Velmapearl Hawkins
Velma Hawkins6 years ago

France..........they are the role model for the world...............chk it or bing it........

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

Apparently, the US only cares about money...

Max D.
Max D.6 years ago

stefan D, I hope you are kidding.

April Thompson
April Thompson6 years ago

The U.S. is totally disgusting concerning maternity leave! Children are our future for friggin' sakes! No one should should have to put their job above their family ever!!!! For that person who said she planned and saved to have her children, good for you, but you didn't look like you ever worked a hard day in your entire life and life happens! If people waited until everything was perfect to have children, then we would not have money in Social Security to help those who are elderly or soon to be in retirement! Family comes first always for me!

Empress Ginger
Ginger Strivelli6 years ago

stay at home moms should draw a 'pension' or some sort of allowance so more moms could stay home, less kids would be latch key kids turning to gangs and drugs and sex too young, because of a lack of attention from their mother.

Nancy Dodson
Nancy Dodson6 years ago

Our country is falling behind the rest of the world in so many ways. Not only in family leave issues, but in education, health care, and vacation time for workers among other things. Our students are falling far behind many other countries in math and science,
The countries who have universal health care for it's citizens provide much better care than we do at much less cost, We like to think we are a super power and a model for the world but that is no longer the case unfortunately.

Most of the world uses their tax money to better the life of their citizens. They have high speed rails to travel from country to country very quickly. A lot of countries provide 6 weeks of paid vacation for their workers every year.

Maybe if all of our tax money went to the above instead of to fighting unwinnable wars that if we notice, the other countries don't get involved in to any degree, the United States could once again be admired and a leader of the free world.

Anna I.
Anna I.7 years ago

Nope. U.S.A is definitely not Family First.
It is Paid Work First.
Not even educating our children well takes priority over Paid Work.
Those of us who take time off of our careers and become the Stay At Home Parent are looked at crosseyed. If we choose to breastfeed, we are even more isolated.

Is this because almost half of pregnancies are unplanned? Well my child was planned and wanted, and I don't appreciate the noncondom users for bringing the entire system down. Thank You.

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal7 years ago

Family First. Nice slogan but little action behind it.

Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago

Oh, come on anyone with half a brain knows that motto is just lip service.

Sharon Balloch
Sharon Balloch7 years ago

I just came here to see a better picture of that man looking at the baby... nice to see love in that way..