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Where does the UK rank for parental leave?

Couple talking about maternity and paternity leave

Ever wondered how the UK compares to maternity and paternity leave around the world? While many countries - including the UK - offer maternity leave for up to 52 weeks for new mothers, the same cannot be said for all countries. Yet, parental leave not only benefits the parents, but the individual country too.

9 out of 10 women taking maternity leave are more likely to continue working

Research has shown that 93% of women that do take maternity leave are more likely to be working nine to twelve months after the birth of their first child, compared to those who don’t take leave after giving birth and don't have the chance to bond with their child in the first few months.

To that end, we have compiled the data on the best and worst countries for maternity and paternity leave around the world, taking into account the number of weeks available and job protection.

UK ranks high for maternity leave

In affairs concerning maternity and paternity, the UK climbs through the ranks - especially when it comes to workplaces providing parental leave for families. The UK offers up to 52 weeks maternity leave, with the first 26 weeks knows as ‘Ordinary Maternity Leave’ and the other 26 weeks ‘Additional Maternity Leave’. Similarly, the UK offers job protection for mothers throughout their parental leave.

Europe also fares well for both maternity and paternity leave, with Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Poland ranking within the top 10 - offering up to 52 weeks leave for new mothers.

Nordic countries lead the way for new fathers

The Nordic countries lead the way when it comes to paternity leave. Norway, for example, offers up to 15 weeks under their ‘daddy quota’. Since 2013, fathers in Finland have also been entitled to nine weeks of parental leave until the child turns two.

However, in the UK, new fathers are only entitled to two weeks paternity leave, paid at a minimum statutory rate. It’s also worth noting that the amount of time remains the same if they have more than one child (for instance, twins). However, many UK companies are updating their paternity leave policies and offering up to 14 weeks or more for expectant dads.

IBM, based in London, allow for 14 to 20 weeks parental leave, which can be taken at any point during the child’s first year. Similarly, O2 have recently announced plans to extend paid paternity leave to 14 weeks, with more companies also likely to follow suit in the near future.

A recent report has also discovered that the number of fathers taking advantage of their paternity leave rights has seen an increase. More research looked into the benefits of fathers taking their paternity leave, with increased mental health for mothers, more active fathers and higher long-term earning for mums cited as just some of the positives.

Afghanistan and Yemen trump USA for parental leave

The US is the only industrialised country in the world to not offer paid parental leave for mothers or fathers. Similarly, should a new parent take unpaid leave to care for their child, there is no guarantee their job will be waiting for them when they return.

Afghanistan, considered to be the 21st poorest country in the world, offers up to 14 weeks maternity leave. Similarly, Yemen - another poor country in the Middle East - also has up to 14 weeks available for new mums.

Germany excels for new mums and dads

One of the countries performing best in the area for maternity and paternity leave is Germany, excelling in the length of time available for mothers. With 52 weeks maternity leave, this provides mums with more options and the ability to save on childcare costs.

Dads can also help out with the childcare in Germany, with up to 14 weeks or more available for paternity leave and, again, job protection guaranteed throughout.

Additionally, the choice of whether to go back to work and when is not so urgent, reducing anxiety for mothers worried if their job will be there when they return.

Why should we take parental leave?

Paid parental leave can have enormous benefits for parents and children alike. A report conducted in 2011 found that an increase of 10 weeks of paid maternal leave was associated with a 10% lower neonatal and infant mortality rate.

Additionally, this study reported that women who took more than 12 weeks maternity leave suffered fewer depressive symptoms. Another review, conducted by the Ifo Institute, discovered that longer maternity leave relates to better exam results for children.

While maternity and paternity leave levels are improving, it’s clear that many developed countries have a long way to go before competing with the top of the leaderboard. Take a look at our images below to see where the world’s countries rank for parental leave.

Image showing maternity leave around the world in weeks

Image showing paternity leave around the world in weeks

Updated on 14th June 2019