There are vast policies worldwide for parental leave. This sample expository essay explores maternity and parental leave policies in the US, UK, Finland and other countries.
Introduction to maternity and parental leave
There are currently one hundred and ninety-six countries in the world. Over one hundred and twenty of them provide paid maternity leave and health benefits that are mandated by law. Though the mother’s income is vital for the survival of a large number of families world-wide, mothers in countries in every degree of wealth and development are at risk for job loss, increased health risks due to insufficient protections for their jobs, and suspended earnings (“More than 120 Nations Provide Paid Maternity Leave”).
- An estimated 30% of households list the mother as their main source of income
- 59% of working women in Europe and 55% in the U.S. supply about half of their household’s income
Because of the heavy reliance on women in the survival of countless households, some governments feel it is their duty to their citizens to make it easy for women to continue to support their households and maintain job security during and after childbirth. On the other hand, even though maternity leave is considered part of women’s rights, some countries are slow to implement fair practice.
Maternity and parental leave across the globe
Croatia is the number one country in the world for paid maternity leave.
The government prioritizes parental leave because they aim to, “protect motherhood, facilitate the balance between family and professional duties, and encourage fathers to actively take care of their children from an earliest age” (“Croatia”).
Whether someone is employed full time, part time, self-employed, or unemployed, they are entitled to certain parental support.
Maternity leave begins twenty-eight days before the mother’s due date and is extended to seventy days after birth with pay. After that time, the mother is able to extend her maternity leave until the baby is six months old. After that time, parents are entitled to parental leave, in which they can share:
- Eight months of paid leave for the first child
- Eight months for the second
- Then thirty months for twins, the third child, and any subsequent children
Croatia takes a proactive role in evening the gender roles of both parents in the workforce. If both parents are taking leave, they must split the extra months of leave evenly. If only one parent is taking leave, that parent is able to take the entire amount of allotted time off. During the parental leave, the parents are entitled to their full pay and benefits.
In Finland, paid maternity leave begins well before the mother’s due date. Expectant mothers begin their leave fifty days before their babies are expected to appear and are then able to stay home for an additional four months after the baby’s birth with 100% pay (Ramnarace). After those four months are up, either spouse can collect parental allowance, which pays 70% of their salary until the baby reaches the age of nine months. Another system, Paternal Allowance, allows men to take time off of work as well upon the birth of a child. One Finnish mother said, “My spouse had the opportunity to be home
One Finnish mother said, “My spouse had the opportunity to be home the first three weeks after birth with both children and then the last six weeks of parental allowance time. It’s a system that encourages men to stay at home with their children” (Ramnarace).
Once the baby reaches nine months, families have the option of collecting child home care allowance, a reduced payment from the parental allowance that allows some families to extend leave time for up to three years without worrying about job protection (Romnarace). Once the three years are up, if a parent decides to only work part-time in order to spend time and nurture their children, the government will compensate them for the time they do not work.
In Canada, their parental leave policy is also able to be split between parents. Mothers who have been with their employer for six months or more are able to take seventeen weeks of maternity leave while receiving 55% of their regular pay with a maximum of $514 per week, though employers are free to pay their employees more (Gebreyes). Their seventeen weeks can begin as soon as eight weeks before the baby’s due date.
After the first seventeen weeks, the parents of the child are given an additional thirty seven weeks to split however they see fit, both receiving guaranteed job security. Canadian citizens feel favorably towards this plan and many feel that is it important because it encourages companies to offer these benefits when they may not have done so otherwise. One said:
I think there is definitely a responsibility of government to have a certain standard because then the companies have to at least meet that. If you’re only relying on the companies out of the goodness of their heart to do it… to be honest, a lot of them won’t. They’ll only meet the minimum standard, which is why the standard needs to be high, and in Canada, it’s pretty generous. (Gebreyes)
The United Kingdom
The United Kingdom recently changed their policies on parental leave. Like the old policy, both mothers and fathers are able to take two weeks of paid leave. After that, the parents have a flexible choice as to how to split the rest of their fifty week parental leave. The new policy that mandates this extra time is very flexible. Parents can book up to three blocks of leave during the child’ first year of life, but must give their employer eight weeks’ notice (Peachey). Even if a father takes none of the leave, a mother can take her maternity leave as shared paternal leave in order to have the same flexibility.
To be eligible for this leave, though, one parent must have been working within a minimum of twenty-six weeks with the same employer by the end of the fifteenth week before the baby is due, while the other must have worked for a minimum of twenty-six weeks in the sixty-six weeks leading up to the baby’s due date and have earned at least £30 per week in thirteen of those sixty-six weeks (Peachey). During this leave, the parents receive either 90% of their pay or a totally of £139.58 per week, whichever is lower, but employers can choose to pay their employees more.
The only exception is during the first six weeks of maternity leave when the pay is 90% with no maximum amount. Only thirty-seven of the fifty-two weeks are paid while the other thirteen if taken, are unpaid (Peachey). These benefits apply to married couples, same-sex marriages, couples that are cohabitating, and couples that are parenting together even if the child is from a previous relationship.
The United States
There are regulations in place in the United States that allows twelve weeks of unpaid leave with job protection after the birth of a child. However, if someone is in the top 10% of earners of their workplace and their employer can prove that the loss of said employee would cause significant damage to the company, the employee is not entitled to any leave (Chivers). The United States is actually in the top ten worst countries for maternity leave in the world, tied for eighth with Lesotho and Swaziland (Adams).
In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called attention to the fact that the United States of America is the only advanced economy that does not mandate paid maternity leave for its working citizens. While the Family Medical Leave Act allows workers a period of up to twelve weeks per year to care for family members, that leave is unpaid (Kurtzleben). Of the nine countries that are part of the Operation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States is the only one that has no leave polices for fathers (Kurtzleben).
Individualism and equal opportunity in its infancy
What is responsible for this huge disparity? For one, according to political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, American democracy is young and was founded on such values as individualism and equal opportunity. Much unlike the majority of European democracies, the United States has never had a feudal society or monarchy, meaning Americans have less deference to the state and less awareness of class division (Kurtzleben). Lipset believes that Americans tend to identify more with the social class they aspire to instead of the social class they are actually in.
Therefore, “Americans have a lot of sympathy for small business because American people you would have thought were workers historically thought of themselves as potentially being small-business people” (Kurtzleben).
This means people would be more likely to sympathize with the business owner than the everyday worker because they see themselves as being the business owner someday.
Another reason that the United States differs so much from other countries in its maternity leave policies is a result of the WWII. Many European countries suffered huge casualties and terrible damage to its infrastructure during the war. Thus, they needed to get more people out into the workforce in order to stimulate the economy. By helping women get into and remain in the workforce, they were doing just that.
WWII and gender roles
Meanwhile, though, American troops returned home and reduced the need for women to work. The men didn’t realize that society had changed during WWII. During the war, women held the jobs that men had in American factories. When the men returned from war they resumed their old jobs and the women often returned to being homemakers (Kurtzleben). There was less of a reason to create policies that assisted women in cementing their places in the workforce.
The United States may have differing parental leave policies because of the business community, as well. The National Federation of Independent Business and other trade groups openly opposed paid-leave policies; as do the chambers of commerce at the state and national levels (Kurtzleben). In 2007, one of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce officials said that he and his organization would “wage an all-out war” against paid-leave policies (Kurtzleben).
Despite this, businesses are not necessarily opposed to paid leave itself.
According to the Labor Department, “65% of United States civilian workers have paid sick leave while 74% have paid vacation time” (Kurtzleben).
What they oppose is the government mandating the institution of such policies. Paid leave is certainly not cheap and most businesses feel they should be able to decide whether or not to implement those policies and to what degree on their own.
Lisa Horn, a spokeswoman for the Society for Human Resources Management, stated, “The challenge with mandates is it is a government one-size-fits-all approach that tries to bring all of these unique workforces and workplaces under this one-size-fits-all approach. It limits the workplace flexibility and company innovation in this area. (Kurtzleben)
Paternal leave can be an important and very useful key to the prosperity of a country’s economy and the livelihood of its citizens. Paternal leave around the world can hugely differ from country to country, depending on their own laws and policies. Many countries take paternal leave very seriously for the benefits it can have on both the economy and the country’s families. While job security and leave benefits can help families continue to support themselves after the birth of a child and help stabilize the economy, it is also beneficial to children to have time with both of their parents as much as possible. Though one might expect countries with advanced economies to have better paternal leave policies but this is not always the case, as these policies can vary greatly regardless of the country’s development or economy.
“Croatia.” European Union: European Platform for Investing in Children. European Union, 2015. Web. 28 May 2016. http://europa.eu/epic/countries/croatia/index_en.htm
Chivers, Tom. “This Is How Much Leave New Parents Get In Countries Around The World.” Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed, Inc., 28 Jul. 2015. Web. 28 May 2016. https://www.buzzfeed.com/tomchivers/this-is-how-much-leave-new-parents-get-in-countries-around-t?utm_term=.ixe84jZn3#.iaYGYqw9V
Gebreyes, Rahel. “How Canada’s ‘Generous’ Parental Leave is Benefitting Real Families.” Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 28 May 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/12/03/canada-parental-leave_n_6258932.html
Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Lots Of Other Countries Mandate Paid Leave. Why Not The U.S.?” NPR. NPR, 15 Jun. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.npr.org/sections/itsallpolitics/2015/07/15/422957640/lots-of-other-countries-mandate-paid-leave-why-not-the-us
“More than 120 Nations Provide Paid Maternity Leave.” International Labour Organization. International Labour Organization, 1998. Web. 28 May 2016. http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_008009/lang–en/index.htm
Peachey, Kevin. “How the UK’s new rules on parental leave work.” BBC News. BBC, 5 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-32130481
Romnarace, Cynthia. “Maternity Leave Around the World.” The Bump. The Bump, 2016. Web. 27 May 2016. http://www.thebump.com/a/maternity-leave-around-the-world