America Has the Worst Family Leave Policies Of Any Developed Country

June 5th 2015

America is at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to family leave policies, according to findings from a Pew Research Center report. Of 38 nations, including Mexico, America ranks dead last for weeks of paid leave and protected leave.

Crunching parental and maternity leave data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Pew created this chart:

Family leave in 38 nationsPew Research Center/OECD -

In the U.S., you're guaranteed zero weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of protected leave, meaning your job will be waiting for you three months after your child is born. Under America's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, however, this is only for employees who have been at a company of 50 or more workers for at least a year, and even in these circumstances, employers are not required to provide any sort of compensation for your leave. The 50-employee requirement also puts workers at smaller, newer companies at a disadvantage. So if you're pregnant at a tiny start-up in the U.S., your paid and protected leave options are at the discretion of your manager. Even if you work at a company with more than 50 people, you might run into some trouble if you find out you're having a kid before hitting your one-year employee mark.

How other countries handle family leave.

Estonia, on the other hand, gives workers 108 weeks of paid family leave and 180 weeks of protected leave. As pointed out by Pew, 25 of the nations in the chart offer guaranteed paternity leave for new fathers.

“In the vast majority of countries offering paid time off, the government is footing the bill, though in some cases employers are required to pony up, as well,” Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Pew, told MarketWatch.

In a 2014 map created by the World Policy Forum, the U.S., Suriname, and Papua New Guinea are the sole countries that don't offer paid family leave. Consider how different the U.S. is from those two countries. Suriname​ is a small, African country with a population of 539,276, Papua New Guinea has a population of 7,321,262​, and the U.S. has a population of 316,128,839​, according to data from The World Bank. According to Global Finance magazine, Papua New Guinea and Suriname are significantly poorer than the U.S. In a ranking of the 184 poorest nations based on Gross Domestic Product (PPP) per capita from 2009 to 2013​, Suriname was the 109th poorest country, Papua New Guinea was the 46th poorest country, and the U.S. was the 178th poorest country.

Where you work can determine your paid leave prospects.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 11 percent of all workers and 15 percent of workers in medium-to-large establishments had paid family leave in 2012. The numbers were even smaller for part-time workers and those at small establishments: just 4 percent of part-time workers and 8 percent of small establishment workers received paid family leave three years ago. Less than 20 percent of state and local government employees can get paid family leave, and federal workers aren't granted any paid family leave time.

Vicki Shabo, vice president of National Partnership for Women and Families, told The New York Times in 2013 that paid parental leave shouldn't be determined by one's place of employment as that could put him/her at an extreme disadvantage.

“What one person might get is an accident of where you happen to work or where you happen to be,” Shabo said. “Instead, what we need are public policies that provide a basic level of protection. It shouldn’t matter where you live or who you work for. All that matters is that you should have time to take care of your children without worrying about facing major financial turmoil."

Why young people value the freedom of family leave.

A new survey by financial services provider EY found that Millennials are much more likely to take paid parental leave compared to previous generations. Millennials tend to appreciate more flexibility, according to the research, which reveals young parents are more likely to stress the importance of subsidized childcare, paid parental leave, and remote working. Nearly 40 percent of Millennials said they'd “move to another country with better parental leave benefits.”

If you're not careful, America, you'll scare your largest generation in the workforce away.

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