Without getting too philosophical (and just falling into a giant pit of freaking out by the beginning of this article — we at least need to get halfway through), it’s absolutely ridiculous what’s prioritized within politics and in the world. Sure, that's a controversial generalization, but the lack of support for new parents from a legislative viewpoint is seriously crazy. Does anyone really disagree with restructuring society to rally around families or single parents? It’s what most people say they care about, after all. It doesn’t come up as often as it should, but companies could be doing a lot more to support parents. Of course, some countries are a bit more supportive of families than others, and some really aren’t, at all.
I've gathered the best and worst countries (just in case the fantasy of a vacation turns into a lifelong getaway that involves moving your family to a castle in a valley). Because at least then some parents will get some paid time off. They'll also know what countries to not fantasize about running away to since the stresses of life will just catch up to them when they find out the paternity laws. Basically, I'm keeping our fantasies grounded but still very, very wish-fulfilling.
20 Best: Germany
W24 explains how German workers are promised (and by promised, I mean legally protected to be entitled to) 14 paid weeks of leave. That isn’t 14 weeks with deducted pay or no pay at all. It's no if you’re gone any longer, you risk losing your job... It’s a little more than three months of 100% paid time off. Sure, you might not even need a job if you’re already living in a castle like this, but you could take baby out for a ride in this amazing countryside with all that time on your hands. Or just, nap forever (or as long as baby will).
19 Best: Sweden
Oh, Scandinavia. You blonde, fish-munching problem solvers. You gave us Legos and lovely affordable furniture as well as inspiration for a better future. This list won’t just devolve into a tour of the Nordic countries too much, but they do have some pretty great legislation protecting parents.
Business Insider says new parents are guaranteed 480 days leave at 80% of their normal pay. That’s right, the first year and a few months of their baby's life. Fathers get 90 days paid paternity leave as well, which is obviously not equal to 480. But it’s much better than most places which don’t guarantee anything for fathers.
18 Best: Iceland
How much cold and darkness can a person put up with it if it means more time together? Honestly, that could light up any near-Arctic sky in my book. Icelandic parents are given nine months of post-childbirth leave and it’s split perfectly. Business Insider claims three months go to mom, three months go to the dad, and three months are given to the couple to decide what they want to do with them. All of this leave time gets 80% pay. It’s not as long as Sweden’s leave, but leave it to the Icelandic to always be super fair... I mean, fair like blonde and pale but also fair like invested in justice.
17 Best: Serbia
Did this one come out of nowhere for you? We were all hanging out in the Arctic circle and around Europe before getting to Serbia. But fair enough, CTV News says Serbia guarantees 52 weeks off for new parents, with 100% of pay.
Yup, that’s the first year of a child's life.
That’s a great way to treat your workers. That’s the thing about these countries with ideal policies, you’re not going to get much work done while you’re stressing about your family. You’ll have much more loyal, energized workers if they’re given this time to bond with their families. Also it’s just like, the right thing to do and probably leads to better adjusted children and parents.
16 Best: Belgium
Belgium’s policies aren’t as generous as some others, but they’re extremely flexible, which is appreciated. Business Insider says how mothers in Belgium are granted up to 15 weeks for maternity leave. The first month receives 80% pay while the rest of that time is 75% pay. On the other hand, fathers are given only 10 days, three of which are at full pay. The remaining week is paid at 82% if used in the baby’s first four months. That being said, why wouldn't a parent take this opportunity? However, the cool part about Belgium’s laws are that mothers can take a full eight months of part-time work instead of the 15 full weeks of leave if they so choose.
15 Best: Hungary
Hungary is another nation that provides consideration to dad’s relationship with baby as well as the mother’s role. Thus, Business Insider notes Hungarian fathers can take one week leave with full pay and then another 156 weeks, which are to be shared with the mother. Those weeks (which basically amount to the first few years of baby’s life) are paid at 70% of their salary and are on top of mom’s 24 weeks maternity leave. So, after mom takes a paid six months off, it’s time to dip into that larger store of weeks off. This policy really accounts for the first years, and not just the time immediately after birth.
14 Best: Estonia
Estonian fathers are allotted two weeks of paid time off, but some of that time can also be used during the final two months of the pregnancy. They’re need then, too, not just when the baby comes around. In addition to maternity leave, the parents share 435 days off, with compensation calculated from the average of their joined earnings. That’s one year, two months, and a week to make last as long as possible, with as many days together (paid — can you imagine?) as possible. It’s really nice when a nation acknowledges the important work of parents.
13 Best: Lithuania
It’s so interesting how all the countries with great maternity and paternity laws exist in clusters. Are these laws the result of a terrific competition? Or just evidence of a culture that prioritizes these sorts of things? Either way, Business Insider claims new fathers in Lithuania are given a full month of paid time off and then (on top of maternity leave) the parents share an addition 156 weeks. That's almost three years. The compensation changes at a few key marks: the first 52 weeks of the baby’s life receive full pay, and that second year receives 70% pay. The rest of the time is unpaid, so why not just stay home those first two amazing years?
12 Best: Finland
Our international trip of the mind to nations that most support parents and families takes us to Finland. (It's not too surprising that we’re back in the Nordic countries, though.) It might be chilly, but it's warm in people's hearts (awwww). Finish fathers are given two full months of paid leave and both parents can split another 23 weeks between the pregnancy and the actual child-rearing. You want to know what makes Finalnd special? After the child turns three—and until they enroll in second grade—parents can actually take partial care-leave to manage home and work. I’m loving the long-term perspective these laws have!
11 Best: Norway
Let’s end all the good news with Norway. This fantasy was wonderful while it lasted, wasn't it? Business Insider says fathers are given anywhere between zero and 10 weeks paid leave—depending on their wive’s—while mothers can take either 35 weeks full pay or 45 weeks at 80% pay. Either way, it's close to a year. Then parents also receive 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income.
Can you imagine how much more magical that first year (and, in some places, multiple years) could be if the country decided to support parenting as a legitimate job? Amazing.
10 Worst: Papua New Guinea
CTV News says Papua New Guinea only guarantees new mothers with six weeks unpaid maternity leave. Of course, you can use all your sick days to receive compensation but what about when you’re actually sick? Or when your little one is? You have no back up plan. That kind of stress just has no place in the first few weeks of a little one’s life (or yours). I know what, let’s go back to the peace and bliss of Norway; a place where parents are treated equally and are given the time, money, and respect to share with their children.
9 Worst: United Kingdom
This one feels pretty surprising: the United Kingdom, really? Out of all of the countries? We’re talking about the same incredibly old empire, right? The pioneer of so many technological breakthroughs we now take for granted? Home of Kate Middleton and a now middle-aged Harry Potter? Well, in fact, out of 24 European countries, the UK came in 22nd place according to HarpersBazaar. Woof. That's way too close to last place, if you ask me. Government employees are well taken care of but women who earn under a certain amount aren’t eligible for paid leave.
8 Worst: Swaziland
The pictures might be gorgeous but the reality is less than ideal. According to CTV News, Swaziland (of Southern Africa) only provides new mothers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave (which is a policy shared by a very surprising other country, but we’ll get to that in a bit). 12 weeks of caring for a child without any kind of financial help on her side? Sounds a bit harsh, no? However, according to another source, W24, they claim Swaziland has 12 weeks leave with two weeks being paid. Regardless of the differences — that doesn't seem like enough.
7 Worst: Lesotho
If you didn’t learn anything else today (maybe you already knew all these super-specific policies), at least you learned about a little country called Lesotho in Southern Africa. (Did you have to look this one up on a map? I did.) Lesotho is a landlocked little kingdom in South Africa, with plenty of impressive mountains and narrow valleys to enjoy in the “Kingdom in the Sky,” while you spend your whopping 12 weeks unpaid leave with your newborn. Sure, it's the same policy as the one we already discussed, but that doesn’t make it any better or less anxiety-inducing to consider.
6 Worst: Tunisia
If you’re inspired by the song “Night in Tunisia” to settle down and start a family there, maybe reconsider. Or at least put off the move until the kids are a bit older. CTV News says Tunisia has one of the briefest maternity leaves anywhere: four weeks. Wow. That’s barely enough time to get your feet back on the ground! Women in agriculture receive half their compensation, women covered by the Labour Code receive 67%, and government employees receive full pay. But only for a month before it’s time to go back to work. Even the ones who have it best still don’t have much.
5 Worst: Nigeria
This, like Tunisia’s policies, is one of those maternity leave deals that isn’t even that good but still, some people have it way better than others. Specifically, W24 notes that while civil servants receive six months paid paternity leave (so that’s pretty solid), everyone else only receives three months paid leave at 50% compensation. Wow. That is stark and definitely cause for some tension between government employees and their non-government employed friends and family. I’m glad someone benefits, but there’s no reason for everyone not to be treated that way. It’s such an uneven footing for new families to start out this exciting new life together on.
4 Worst: South Africa
Four months leave with pay at the same level as unemployment is what’s policy for parental leave in South Africa. Look, this could be worse but it still feels like a slap in the face to new parents to be put on unemployment. It just doesn’t make much sense. They’re not unemployed — actually, they have two jobs. There’s the one they’re paid for and then the most important job of their lives that they’re not being supported for at all. Considering these parents are working double time, it feels like putting them on unemployment is just deeply ironic and backward.
3 Worst: Japan
W24 says Japan ensures new mothers 14 weeks leave at 67% of salary. Sure, this isn’t as bad as some of the other countries on this list, but it’s far from supportive. And 14 weeks? That might sound generous compared to some policies until you consider how many months that is: it’s only three-and-a-half months with baby. Things really aren’t stable or less stressful at that point. Sure, things have settled since delivery, but that’s still a really, really young baby to be away from. There’s just no job so important it should be prioritized over being a present force in your child’s life.
2 Worst: Iran
Iran is a good example of a country that just about does the bare minimum. Times says the International Labor Organization recommends that all mothers (let alone fathers, too) across the board should be entitled to two-thirds of their regular pay, for at least 14 weeks. That’s the super skimpy, bad end of the stick that should be given to parents at the very least. In Iran, the policy is slightly less than that: workers are paid from public funds for 12 weeks. It’s not that great of a policy, and yet it’s so much better than so many more places. We’ll get to that...
1 Worst: The States
This is some constructive criticism right now: I love the emphasis in the States on a strong work ethic as a means of survival and a magic key to thriving. But there are times when working long hours just isn’t the right thing to do; for us or our children. The States have the same guaranteed maternity leave as Tunisia or Swaziland: unpaid for three months according to W24. Sure, it varies from company to company, but why rely on that? It’s just not safe or healthy when the majority of folks will be exploited. We can do better, for our generation and our children’s.