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US Trails Malta, Slovenia (& 35 More) Supporting New Parents

There is a better way, just not in the U.S.—but in the rest of the world.

For any new parents who ever felt it was awfully hard returning to work after only 12 weeks and thought, there’s got to be a better way, this one’s for you.

The good news is, when it comes to work-related support for new parents, there is a better way. But not in the U.S.—just the rest of the world.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that when it comes to “government-supported time off for new parents,” the United States ranks dead last out of 38 surveyed nations. The U.S. trails Malta, Slovenia and a host of nations large and small, including Britain, Japan, Latvia and Estonia, among many others.

The study takes into consideration “the number of weeks of federally protected time off, as well as the amount of time off that is paid in full, available to employed new mothers in each country.” It considers both maternity leave and “parental leave” (available to new mothers and new fathers).

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To add some numbers for context, the U.S. provides 0 weeks of paid leave and 12 weeks of protected leave. (“Protected leave” basically allows parents time off to care for a baby “without fear of losing that job.”) By comparison, at the other end of the spectrum, Estonia provides 108 weeks of paid leave and 180 weeks of protected leave.

A summary accompanying the study, written by Gretchen Livingston of Pew Research, notes: “Women’s labor force participation has surged in recent decades, driven largely by increases in labor force participation among women with young children. At the same time, fathers—virtually all of whom are in the labor force—are also taking on more child care responsibilities, as fatherhood has grown to encompass far more than just bringing home the bacon…Despite these transformations, the U.S. government support for working parents remains very limited, compared with 37 other nations.”

Limited indeed, as a chart accompanying the research graphically shows. I fully recognize the U.S. government is not exactly, shall we say, flush with excess cash these days. But it does seem as though the level of support for an engine of economic growth is not exactly robust...especially when compared to expenditures in Malta, Slovenia, Turkey, Austria and the Czech Republic, etc.

Over the course of my career I well remember many young mothers returning to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave. While a few were pleased to return and see friends and colleagues, more often emotions were raw and the young women were quite unhappy, miserable even at times, separated from a new life far sooner than they would have liked but understandably unwilling to risk losing a good job.

That was an old memory; it was interesting after all these years to have new data to go with it.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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