Last updated September 2022.
The U.S. is the only OECD member country—and one of only six countries in the world—without a national paid parental leave policy. The U.S. is also one of the few high-income countries without a national family caregiving or medical leave policy. This factsheet provides a brief overview of parental leave and family caregiver policies throughout the OECD.
OECD countries generally provide three types of parental leave benefits: maternity, paternity, and parental leave.
Currently, 37 out of 38 OECD countries offer paid maternity leave to working mothers around the time of childbirth (and, in some countries, adoption). On average, these countries provide 17.3 weeks of leave for mothers (or, sometimes, “primary caregivers”), replacing between 27% (in Ireland) and 100% (in 13 countries) of lost wages. Maternity leave is usually job-protected, meaning employers are required to maintain employment for leave takers.
Currently, 27 out of 38 OECD countries offer paid paternity leave to working fathers after childbirth (and, in some countries, adoption). On average, these countries provide 2.1 weeks of leave for fathers (or, sometimes, “secondary caregivers”), replacing between 18% (in Austria) and 100% (in 15 countries) of lost wages. Paternity leave is usually job-protected.
Currently, 28 out of 38 OECD countries offer paid parental leave to working parents after maternity leave, paternity leave, or both. Parental leave, intended to allow at least one parent to stay home with their child through at least part of infancy (and, in some countries, until the child reaches three years of age), generally entails lower compensation than maternity or paternity leave. Compensation is provided either as a percentage of regular earnings or as a flat daily, weekly, or monthly amount. In many countries, parents are also eligible for unpaid leave after exhausting their paid leave benefits.
In some countries, portions of the parental leave benefit are reserved for specific parents. Sweden, for example, provides a total of 480 days of paid parental leave but reserves 90 days for each parent. Some countries, such as Iceland, technically do not provide separate maternity or paternity leave, instead reserving substantial amounts of parental leave for each parent. The graph below shows the total amount of leave available exclusively to mothers (second column) and total leave reserved for fathers (third column).
In addition, many countries offer additional weeks of paid leave if both parents use the benefit in an effort to normalize fathers taking parental leave, diminish potential employer discrimination, boost family bonding, and increase gender equity at home and in the workplace. Lengths of leave in the chart below include these additional weeks.
In most countries, both parents are entitled to take parental leave, but only one parent is eligible for compensation. One exception, France, entitles both parents to take paid leave until their child’s third birthday. In addition, parents in some countries can extend the length of parental leave by choosing a lower benefit amount.
While most countries tie the compensation amount to leave-taking, some provide compensation regardless of whether parents take leave. For example, parents in the Slovak Republic are entitled to take leave until their child is three years old but receive a “parental allowance” of €378 per month even if they do not take leave. The graph above does not include any leave entitlement that is not directly tied to compensation.
Many countries offer unpaid parental leave as an extension of paid parental leave.
Family Caregiving Leave
In addition to parental leave, most OECD countries provide employees an entitlement to paid, job-protected leave to care for sick children or other family members. As described in the table below, the details of these leave programs vary considerably. Currently, 29 out of 38 OECD countries provide leave to care for an ill child. Many also provide leave to care for other family members. Qualifying reasons for caregiving and qualifying relationships vary from country to country.
Many countries offer unpaid leave for family caregiving as an extension to paid leave or in place of paid leave. Only four OECD countries—Denmark, Iceland, Mexico, and Turkey—provide no specific caregiving leave entitlement.
Most OECD countries pay for parental leave programs using social insurance funds that are supported by employer, worker, and government contributions. Some countries fund parental leave through general taxes or health insurance. Child and family caregiving leave, if not included in social insurance, is generally paid through public, long-term care insurance.
Small Business Exemptions
Most OECD countries do not exempt small businesses. However, several countries do attempt to address the disparate impact on small and medium companies. For example, Japan and South Korea allow businesses with fewer than five employees to opt out of insurance plans for parental leave benefits. The UK allows small business owners to claim back 103% of payments, compared to only 92% for medium and large employers. In France, companies that develop family-friendly initiatives for their workers can qualify for a “family tax credit.”
BPC primarily sourced the data in this factsheet from:
International Network on Leave Policies & Research, Country reports, last modified April 2021. Available at: https://www.leavenetwork.org/annual-review-reports/country-reports/.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “PF2.1 Key characteristics of parental leave systems,” OECD Family Database, last modified October 2021. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/els/family/database.htm.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “PF2.3 Additional leave entitlements of working parents,” OECD Family Database, last modified January 2020. Available at: https://www.oecd.org/els/family/database.htm.
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