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The U.S. is one of only three countries that does not require paid maternity leave for new mothers.(Photo: Kaitlin M/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)

Report: US Ranks First in Terrible Treatment of New Mothers

UN survey looks at maternity and paternity practices in 185 nations

Lauren McCauley

The United States is the only Western country, and one of three in the world, that does not require some kind of paid maternity leave for new mothers, said a new United Nations study released Tuesday.

Published by the International Labour Organization, an agency of the UN, the study—Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and Practice Across the World (pdf)—surveys national law and practice on both maternity and paternity at work in 185 countries and territories.

“In order to have gender equality, you must have maternity protection."
—Shauna Olney, chief of ILO Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch

Among the findings, the ILO reports that the U.S., Oman and Papua New Guinea are the only three countries that fail to provide any "cash benefits paid during maternity leave."

According to maternity protection conventions adopted by the ILO, "the cash benefits paid during maternity leave should be at least two-thirds of a woman’s previous earnings (or a comparable amount if other methods are used to determine cash benefits) for a minimum of 14 weeks."

Globally, 45 percent of the countries studied meet all of these requirements. The report also notes that in 70 countries paid leave is also provided for fathers.

Only five U.S. states mandate paid maternity leave: California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. According to the report, that amounts to roughly 12 percent of U.S. women who are entitled to mandated paid maternity leave.

Further, the U.S. is the only Western country to offer less than the convention-approved amount of time off for maternity leave. Businesses in the U.S. are required to allow a new mother to take as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

“In order to have gender equality, you must have maternity protection," said Shauna Olney, chief of the ILO Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch.

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