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How U.S. maternity benefits stack up globally

With all the recent buzz about balancing career and family obligations as a mother, how exactly does the United States stack up with family benefits that can make the workload easier? It’s not just about paid leave, Latina advocates insist: it’s about job protection, parental rights, birth privileges and health benefits that current U.S. policies lack.

“For all the rhetoric around family values that are a part of our elections, you would think that more attention would be given to reconciling family life with work life,” says Celeste Montoya, PhD, a political science and gender studies professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder. “Other countries and some forward thinking employers in this country have realized the utility in allowing people more balanced lives. Not just mothers, but all women and men too. It makes for better morale, more productive work environments, and stronger communities.”

The United States, Dr. Montoya says, is often behind with regards offering to parental leave, child care flexible/alternative work hours. But exactly how does the United States compare to other countries when it comes to family friendly work policies? Here are the stats:

  • In Canada, all female employees receive a 17 weeks unpaid, job protected maternity leave. And dads-to-be aren’t left out either, as both male and female employees are allowed up to 37 weeks of unpaid, job-protected parental leave. In comparison, only about half of first-time mommies in the United States take any paid leave after giving birth. According to a recent Families and Work Institute report, only 16 percent of U.S. companies it surveyed offered fully paid maternity leave in 2008. Adding further shock value is the fact that 34 of the world’s most developed companies assembled in The Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) – provide an average of 18 weeks paid maternity leave with 13 weeks full pay; of those, the United States is the only exception. “For families barely making ends meet as it is, women don’t have the luxury to choose whether to work or stay at home, and taking off 3 months of unpaid leave is out of the question,” notes Dr. Montoya, which underscores why for many women, job protected maternity leave is a must-have.
  • The daddy-baby bond is important and Latin American countries get it. In Ecuador, dads receive 10 days paid paternity leave, while Venezuelan papis receive 14 days. In comparison, dads in the United States rarely receive paid maternity leave. “Paid maternity leave is important for a number of reason,” says Dr. Montoya. “It challenges the gender norms that women should be the primary care giver and supports a more active role for fathers.” California became the first state to offer paid family leave in 2004. Washington followed suit in 2007, giving employees up to five weeks of paid vacation, while in New Jersey, a 2008 law provides a maximum of six weeks leave at a maximum of $599 a week covering birth, foster placement or adoption.
  • Separation anxiety is often an issue for moms who head to work after giving birth to baby, but in Russia, new mothers can remain on maternity leave for up to three years. And if you’re longing to have more children but are unsure about the added expense, Russia has a solution for that too. In an initiative to encourage Russian citizens to bump up the country’s low birth rate, second or third time mothers receive a cash voucher, worth up to 365,000 rubles (roughly $13,000). In Australia, parents also receive cash incentive for baby – entirely independent of whether or not they take parental leave.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with your new baby? In the Netherlands, moms are sent home with a maternity care assistant whose job it is to stay with the family and offer support. The assistant – or kraamzorg – offers help and guidance (breastfeeding, baby care) and also takes on chores like babysitting older children and cleaning. “Because so many families in the United States now rely on a double income, those with limited resources in terms of money or in terms of extended family available to help with child care, have to make sacrifices regarding time spent with their children,” explains Dr. Montoya. In those cases, government provided child care can be the difference between handing over a substantial portion of one’s paycheck or raising a latchkey kid, she says.
  • In Colombia, new mothers are allowed to take two 30-minute breaks daily to breastfeed or pump until their baby reaches 6 month of age. In Brazil and Argentina, that’s the rule as well. And in Ecuador, moms are given up to two hours a day until a child’s first birthday.  In the United States, a provision in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time for nursing mothers – with the recommendation of a “non-bathroom” place for them to pump or nurse.


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  3. Frank Sanchez says:

    I recently returned from spending 6 months in Bucharest Romania. One of the largest shock I had were the benefits for parents. The law allows for parents to have 2 Years maternity leave, with the guarantee that you will get paid, and still have your job! Now dont get me wrong, this system can, and does get taken advantage off, But I see one very good reason to look into some options in that direction. I believe that there is a correlation between the strong family values,and the general good will, low crime(in 6 months There was only 1 violent murder in a city of 3 million, compared to Albuquerque where it seems like a daily report), and strong family values. Being a Latino, I was very much at home here.

    Best Regards,

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