Paid maternity leave: How the top 25 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index compare


According to the International Labour Organization:

…pregnancy and maternity are an especially vulnerable time for working women and their families. Expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to prevent harm to their or their infants’ health, and they need adequate time to give birth, to recover, and to nurse their children. At the same time, they also require protection to ensure that they will not lose their job simply because of pregnancy or maternity leave. Such protection not only ensures a woman’s equal access to employment, it also ensures the continuation of often vital income which is necessary for the well-being of her entire family. Safeguarding the health of expectant and nursing mothers and protecting them from job discrimination is a precondition for achieving genuine equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women at work and enabling workers to raise families in conditions of security.

Using information collected by UN Data on 2013 Maternity Leave Benefits, I plotted the number of days of paid maternity leave by the % of wages paid during leave for the top 25 countries listed in the 2013 UN Human Development Index. The provider of benefits varied by country and included social insurance, social assistance systems financed by the State, social security, and employers.

Maternity leave standards determined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) were used as a ‘gold standard’ for benefits. The Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) is the most up-to-date international labour standard on maternity protection, and according to the ILO (emphasis my own):

Convention No. 183 provides for 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women to whom the instrument applies. Women who are absent from work on maternity leave shall be entitled to a cash benefit which ensures that they can maintain themselves and their child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living and which shall be no less than two-thirds of her previous earnings or a comparable amount.

There has been a great deal of progress when it comes to maternity (and paternity) leave benefits, yet there is no consistent and lawful standard for paid leave in the United States. So while we may applaud a company like Netflix for their progressive policy on ‘unlimited parental leave’ in the first year after birth or adoption, most Americans are not afforded such a privilege…or what some might argue is a right. The average length of maternity leave in the United States is 84 days and the percentage of wages paid during this period is 0%. The US is the only country that does not meet at least one of the requirements of the ILO standard.