Family & Education

Countries With Best Maternity Leave Benefits

BY Giuliana Manca TIMEApril 28, 2016 PRINT

Paid maternity leave—a contentious issue in the United States—is available for mothers (and sometimes fathers) in developed countries around the world. 

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on its member states compares and contrasts the parental leave statutes of the world’s most developed nations. 

It isn’t, however, as simple as the birds and the bees.

Nations have written into their maternity leave statues a seemingly endless number of conditions and stipulations. It is not just a matter of weeks allocated and amount paid. 

Australia, for example, doesn’t provide maternity leave per se. Rather, maternity entitlements are part of the country’s greater parental leave statues. According to the OECD, the 6 weeks of leave prior to birth are considered maternity leave. The maximum payout of $494.67 per week equals about 42 percent of an average wage for a mother. This means that mothers are only paid in full for 2.5 weeks of absence, once averaged out. 

(Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
(Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It gets even more complicated than that. The OECD employed what it called a “full-rate equivalent” (FRE) calculation, which is the duration of leave in weeks multiplied by the payment rate (as percent of average earnings) received by the beneficiaries over the duration of the leave. 

This FRE number is equivalent to “the length of the paid leave in weeks if it were paid at 100 percent of previous earnings.” 

So while the United Kingdom offers one of the longest maternity leaves, if a British mother opts to take advantage of all 39 weeks available to her, only 33 percent her gross average earnings will be paid out to her over the 9 months.

Quite possibly, that is not enough for the new mother to live on. So while U.K. claimants have an option to take 39 weeks paid leave, the FRE is actually only 12.2 weeks. That is below the OECD average of 17.7 weeks. 

Of course, simply providing the options of paid maternity leave doesn’t mean beneficiaries will take it. Japan has an “extremely generous” father-specific entitlement—52 weeks at 58 percent compensation—but only 2 percent of fathers take advantage of it.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 05:  Secondary school teacher Sarah Ward at home on maternity leave with her three month old daughter Esme Kelliher, is in the last week of her paid parental leave allowance ahead of the New Zealand Federal Budget release, on May 5, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand's  Minister of Finance has announced that Budget 2015 will be presented on 21 May 2015.  (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
New Zealand school teacher Sarah Ward at home with her 3-month-old daughter, Esme Kelliher, during the last week of her paid parental leave allowance. New Zealand allows 16 weeks of paid leave at 47.9 percent compensation. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

The United States does not provide any paid maternity leave for its citizens at a federal level. The 1993 Family Medical Leave Act entitles eligible workers to 12 weeks of leave to care for or bond with their newborn or newly adopted child—but it is unpaid. 

At the state level, only California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island provide paid leave for new parents. Though these are only partially paid and provide a maximum of 6 weeks. However, some employers offer much more generous maternity packages.

Couldn’t it be as simple as receiving 100 percent of your income for the entirety of your leave? Out of the 34 OECD member states, 14 offer full compensation t0 mothers during their leave.

A. Duration of paid maternity leave. B. Average payment rates across paid maternity leave for an
individual on national average earnings.

Paid maternity leave, 2015. (OECD).
Paid maternity leave, 2015. (OECD).

All five countries below offer their citizens 100 percent earnings pay out to mothers. Despite having identical pay out percentages, the actual benefit the mothers receive varies wildly. These nations depict just how different maternity leave allowances can be. 


Famed for it’s 5,800+ miles of magnificent coastline, the former Yugoslavian state requires mothers to have been consecutively insured for the year preceding their absence. If they manage that, recipients receive 100 percent of their average insured earnings for a whopping 30 weeks.

With no ceiling on payments, tourist-filled Croatia treats its mothers as if they were on vacation. 


It is said that the first concept of a “Polish” state was born in 966, with the conversion of Mieszko I to Christianity. In addition to offering 26 weeks of 100 percent paid maternity leave to all employed women with no payment ceiling, the modern polish state offers 2 weeks of 100-percent paid leave specifically for fathers.  

(Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)
(Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)


Estonia is one of the least populated states in the European Union, and perhaps for that reason it has arguably the best maternity leave package of any developed nation.

With 20 weeks—or 140 days—with 100 percent of earnings and no ceiling on possible payments, the tiny, North Sea-swept nation is one of the few to offer no-strings-attached maternity leave. All you have to do is give birth.


American’s neighbor to the south also implements a maternity leave with 100 percent payout of earnings. This may surprise some Americans. While the former home of the Maya only makes it available to females with formal employment who have totaled 30 weeks of insurance contributions in the year preceding the leave, Mexico’s 12 weeks of maternity allowance is nothing to sneeze at. 


Israel, the United States’s greatest ally in the Middle East, entitles all employed and self-employed mothers to 26 weeks of leave. Despite the length of leave, the statutes have a number of stipulations. Recipients must have contributed insurance payments for 10 months out of the 14 preceding the absence.

Mothers will receive 100 percent of their earnings—but only for the first 14 weeks, the last 12 weeks are unpaid. The compensation has a ceiling of 5 times that of the national average salary, which in 2015 was equivalent to around $12,000. 

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