1:59pm

Mon August 8, 2011
The Baby Project

Parental Leave: The Swedes Are The Most Generous

Besides what the sex of the baby is, one thing that I'm constantly asked is how much time I'm taking off when I give birth to my baby. I'm due at the end of November.

In the U.S., federal law allows men and women to take three months. Some work places will allow for more, unpaid. But the law doesn't mandate that companies pay anyone time to spend with their babies — and many people simply can't afford to take time off.

So I was surprised to find out that almost every other country in the world — except for a few like Papua New Guinea and Lesotho — pays for either full maternity leave or a portion of it. It's either mandated that companies pay, or social security will dish it out (or it's a combination of both). Of course, the time allotted varies country to country. Some places, like the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia, give new moms 45 days or fewer.

As NPR's Phil Reeves reports tonight on All Things Considered, Sweden has some of the most generous parental leave laws in the world — and the government not only considers the mother, but also the father.

Parents are allocated a total of 480 days per child, which they can take any time until the child is 8 years old. They can share these days, although 60 are allocated specifically to the father. And they are entitled to receive 80 percent of their wages, although this is capped at a certain level.

Paternity leave around the world is harder to chart than maternity leave. In some cases, fathers can tap into the same benefits that mothers get. In other cases — such as Sweden, Norway and Iceland — they have time specifically dedicated to them. Yet in many countries, fathers don't have any time allotted to them at all. A few examples are listed by the International Labour Organization (see page 46).

In Sweden, Reeves reports that dads seem happy. He spoke to men who say the law has really helped them bond with their kids.

One of the benefits, Reeves reports, is that either parent can take the time off. Therefore, employers have little reason to worry about hiring women who will have lots of kids and take lots of time off. In some families, it is the man who takes the majority of the days off.

But the system is not perfect. Swedish men still tend to be better paid than women, Reeves reports. This means the family loses more income if fathers take the leave. And it helps explain why, according to Swedish government figures, women still take 75 percent of the allocation.

To see how various countries stack up, take a look at our map.


Hear Phil Reeves' full story on All Things Considered, or click on the audio link above.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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