The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Dan Beeton, 202-239-1460

New Report Shows European Countries Offer Far More Parental Leave Than U.S.

Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Greece Have High Levels of Both Generosity and Gender Equality in Parental Leave Policy Designs


led by Finland, Norway, and Sweden, rank far ahead of the United States
in guaranteed parental leave, according to a paper just published in
the peer-reviewed social science Journal of
Social Policy
. The new study examines the parental leave
policies of 21 high-income countries and finds the U.S. to be the least
generous. Sweden ranks highest for gender equality in parental leave
practices, while, following a recent policy reform, Germany is the most
generous in offering paid parental leave. Four countries show high
levels of both generosity and gender equality: three Nordic countries
(Finland, Norway, and Sweden), and Greece.

"The United States has the least generous parental
leave policies of all 21 economies compared in this study," said report
co-author and CUNY Graduate Center professor Janet Gornick. "We pay a
high price for our meager policy, because parental leave improves the
health and well-being of children and their parents and paid leaves
provide families with crucial economic support at such an important

The paper, "Who Cares? Assessing Generosity and Gender Equality in
Parental Leave Policy Designs in 21 Countries" by three researchers
(Rebecca Ray, Janet Gornick, and John Schmitt) associated with the Center for Economic and
Policy Research
examines parental leave policies according to three criteria: total
time guaranteed for parental leave, whether paid or unpaid; total paid
leave; and gender equality of the parental leave. While all 21
countries analyzed protect at least one parent's job for a period of
weeks, months, or years, there were great differences across these
countries on each of the three criteria. France and Spain ranked
highest in terms of total guaranteed leave (each with over 300 weeks),
while Switzerland and the U.S. ranked at the bottom, with 24 and 14
weeks, respectively. The paper finds that the countries offering the
most generous paid parental leave overall are Germany, Sweden, Norway,
Greece, and Finland.

The paper includes a Gender Equality Index in order to underscore the
fact that generosity and gender equality are different dimensions of
parental leave policy designs. The index reflects both the portion of
leave available for fathers and/or reserved exclusively for fathers and
the percentage of earnings that are replaced during periods of leave.
The countries that ranked highest on the Gender Equality Index were
Sweden, Finland, Greece, Norway, and Belgium (with Germany ranking

Australia and Switzerland ranked near the bottom in terms of both
generosity and gender equality of parental leave. Neither the U.S. nor
Australia guarantee any paid parental leave, and were tied for the
lowest ranking in terms of overall generosity of paid leave. The U.S.
scored better on the Gender Equality Index, with a rank of 10, while
Japan ranked near the bottom at 19th, contrasting with its 7th place
ranking in terms of overall generosity (26 weeks of paid parental

Table Notes:
1 The generosity of paid leave is measured as full-time equivalent
leave: the duration of paid leave multiplied by the portion of usual
wages that parents receive during that time. For example, Switzerland
offers 14 weeks of leave, paid at 80% of usual wages, or the equivalent
of 11.2 (rounded to 11) weeks of full-time leave.

2 The gender equality index is a scale from 0 to 15. It incorporates
the following factors: the portion of a couple's parental leave that is
reserved for, or accessible to, fathers (accounting for 9 of the 15
points), the amount of fathers' wages that is replaced during leave
available to them (accounting for 5 of the 15 points), and other
incentives for fathers to participate in parental leave (plus or minus
1 point).

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) was established in 1999 to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. In order for citizens to effectively exercise their voices in a democracy, they should be informed about the problems and choices that they face. CEPR is committed to presenting issues in an accurate and understandable manner, so that the public is better prepared to choose among the various policy options.

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