Paid maternity leave around the world: Who gets what?

A seven-month-old baby and her mother look at early flowering Kanzakura cherry blossoms in full bloom at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan March 14, 2018

A seven-month-old baby and her mother look at early flowering Kanzakura cherry blossoms in full bloom at the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo, Japan March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

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Paid leave for new parents helps women return to work after having children and brings wider economic benefits, says UCLA study

While new mothers in India, Cuba or Gambia get six months paid leave, in Japan they can take a year, or even longer in some European countries. But in the United States they get none.

The world's biggest economy is one of only seven countries that provide no paid time off after birth, keeping company with Papua New Guinea and five small Pacific island nations.

The issue is highlighted in a major study which examines how laws and policies around parental and caregiving leave, education, employment discrimination and sexual harassment impact gender gaps in economies.

Policies which close the gap are not just good news for women, but also for countries' economies, according to the study by the WORLD Policy Analysis Center at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

One analysis suggests full gender parity in the labour force could add $28 trillion to annual global gross domestic product (GDP).

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Paid maternity leave can help women remain in work, reduce businesses' staff turnover costs, and lessen families' need for public assistance, but it can also reinforce domestic inequalities, the UCLA report says.

With that in mind, some countries are encouraging parents to share time off work after having a baby.

Evidence from Nordic countries shows when both parents take leave, not only do women's wages and work hours increase, but couples split domestic duties more evenly in the long term, further boosting women's economic and career opportunities.

Here is a snapshot from the UCLA study "Equality Within Our Lifetimes".

Economic inequality:

  • Globally, women earn on average 80 cents for every dollar men earn.
  • Women spend four and a half hours on unpaid care each day, three times as much as men.
  • They are nearly 15 times as likely as men to be out of the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities.
  • Across the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, comprising mostly wealthy countries, the average pay gap between men and women with children is 22%, compared to 7% for those without.
  • The World Economic Forum estimates it will take nearly three centuries to close the global gender gap in economic opportunity and participation.

Parental leave:

  • Countries including Germany, Sweden, and France began introducing paid maternity leave well over a century ago.
  • Worldwide, 62% of countries now provide women with at least 14 weeks of paid leave, the minimum standard set by the International Labour Organization (ILO), up from 41% in 1995.
  • Among countries that have provided paid maternity or parental leave for the past few decades, rates of female employment have boosted GDP per capita growth by 10%–20%.
  • Studies in low- and middle-income countries show that extending paid maternity leave cuts infant mortality. It also increases vaccination rates and breastfeeding, which boosts long-term health.
  • Africa has seen massive progress. All 54 countries guarantee paid leave to new mothers, up from 20 in 1995, and 31 offer at least 14 weeks.
  • Gambia and Djibouti guarantee six months; Ethiopia and South Africa offer four.
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of countries providing 14 weeks has more than doubled since 1995.
  • Chile, Cuba and Venezuela offer at least six months; Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay at least four.
  • In the United States, economists have cited the lack of "family-friendly" policies as one reason women's labour force participation has stagnated compared to its peers.
  • Although a handful of U.S. states including California offer paid maternity leave, as do some companies, there is no national provision - something President Joe Biden wants to change.
  • Nearly a third of women in the United States quit their jobs after having a child, according to recent estimates cited in the study.
  • Globally, the number of countries offering paid paternity leave has tripled since 1995, and more than quadrupled in Africa.
  • But while 63% of countries now provide paid paternity leave, many offer under three weeks, and take-up is often poor.
  • More than a third, including the United States and India, provide no paid leave to fathers.
  • In 1974, Sweden became the first country to introduce parental leave which could be taken by the mother or father.
  • In 1993, Norway introduced a "fathers' quota", making a certain portion of parental leave only available to fathers. Other countries including Sweden and Iceland followed.
  • Research in Sweden, shows a woman's earnings increase by nearly 7% for each month of leave taken by her partner.
  • A pioneering new policy in Iceland, gives mothers and fathers six months of leave each, one month of which can be transferred to the other parent if they wish.

Older children and elderly parents:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how women bear the brunt of unpaid care responsibilities worldwide, including for sick and elderly relatives.
  • Around the world, 606 million working-age women, compared to 41 million men, are out of the labour force due to unpaid care work.
  • Women's unpaid caregiving contributes around $8 trillion in value to the global economy each year, according to the ILO.
  • Most countries ban pregnancy discrimination in employment, but only half ban discrimination against women with family responsibilities.
  • Globally, 63% of countries fail to provide paid leave for children's everyday health needs, disproportionately impacting women's jobs and incomes.
  • Dominican Republic, Guinea-Bissau and Kuwait only make leave to care for a sick child available to mothers, reinforcing inequalities.
  • Only 42% of countries provide paid leave to care for a seriously ill spouse or parent.

(Reporting by Emma Batha; Editing by Helen Popper)

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