Maternity Leave Laws Don’t Affect Pay in Gender Inequality

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Maternity Leave Laws Don't Affect Pay In Gender Inequality. Find out why.

It’s a never-ending battle:  to stay at home or return to work after having children?  The answer is different and difficult for every woman.  In the United States, it’s sometimes even used as an argument for discrepancies in gender pay equality.  It shouldn’t be.

In this country, we have a sad excuse for maternity leave in the workplace.  The common practice is six weeks of unpaid leave, though 12 weeks is allowed and certain states have programs that offer some menial compensation.  Twelve weeks is mandated by the FMLA, but isn’t always recognized at all companies without a fight.  They’re only required to recognize it if you’ve worked for them for over a year at over 26 hours a week and they employ 50+ employees.  A lot of qualifiers.

Let’s look at some of the world’s best maternity leave plans, and see if they have any bearing on the gender pay gap:

*Gender pay gap rankings are taken from the World Economic Federation’s 2014 Report.  The higher the ranking; the lower the difference in pay between men and women.*


Maternity Leave and Pay:  18 weeks at 100% of your earnings
Parental Leave:  32 weeks at 100% of your earnings
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  5


Maternity Leave and Pay:  16 weeks at 100% of your earnings
Parental Leave:  3 years at a rate that varies depending on your circumstances and your family’s size
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  16


Maternity Leave and Pay:  16 weeks at 100% of your earnings
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  14


Maternity Leave and Pay:  82% of your earnings for the first three days, then 75% for 15 weeks following
Parental Leave:  12 weeks for a fixed amount around EUR 653/month
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  10

New Zealand

Maternity Leave and Pay:  14 weeks at 100% of your earnings
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  13


Maternity Leave and Pay:  90% of your earnings for 56 days, then 70% for 21 weeks
Parental Leave:  75% of your earnings for 30 days then 30% for a total of 158 working days
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  2


Parental Leave:  Minimum wage for 18 weeks
Gender Pay Gap Ranking: 24


Maternity Leave and Pay:  3 months at 80% of your earnings
Parental Leave:  3 months at 80% of your earnings
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  1


Maternity Leave and Pay:  47 weeks at 100% of your earnings or 57 weeks at 80% of your earnings
Parental Leave:  This is included above and split up between mother and father via a combination of governmental mandate and subsequent parental decision.
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  3


Maternity Leave and Pay:  50 days at 80% of your earnings
Parental Leave:  480 days at 80% of your earnings
Gender Pay Gap Ranking:  4

What’s the United States’ Gender Pay Gap Ranking?  17.  20.  (We’ve gotten worse since 2011.)  Below many, but not all, of these countries with far more compensatory maternity leave policies.  All of them are longer.  And most of these countries even offer a parental leave period in extension to maternity leave, so taking time off to care for your children when they’re young would also appear to be a moot point.

So is taking a full maternity leave going to affect your earning capabilities?  Not likely.  You may not get a raise immediately before you leave to have baby.  But then again, if you’re really good at your job and your company wants to keep you, they may just offer you that raise as incentive to not stay home.

It takes a woman a while to heal after having a baby.  Every woman is different, but six weeks is a minimum placed on the healing process by medical professionals.  The healing isn’t just incredibly physical, but also psychological.  And the fact of the matter is, you don’t know how long  it’s going to take you to heal until after the birth has happened.  These are facts whether you’re a stay-at-home advocate or someone who believes that returning to the workplace is the best thing to do for your gender.

So abbreviating your maternity leave isn’t going to help close the gender pay gap, but what will?  Here are some things you can do:

1.  Become a feminist.  The country with the number one gender pay gap ranking, Iceland, has also been dubbed the most feminist country in the world.  I doubt the correlation is arbitrary.  Advocate for equality of pay for women by talking about it unabashedly, letting your local representatives know that it’s an issue you’re concerned about, or even requesting a gender pay audit at your place of employment.

2.  Study fields that are traditionally occupied by men.  A major reason for inequality of pay across the world is that women tend to enter fields that pay less.  Motivate yourself to study things such as mathematics and science, and encourage the young women in your life to do the same.  When the economy fell, Silicon Valley wasn’t going through a hiring freeze.  In fact, they couldn’t find enough qualified candidates to fill their job positions.  So they brought in people from other countries.  Study in fields that will offer high paying jobs.

3.  Unionize.  Gasp!  I really don’t advocate this one way or the other on a personal level, but the numbers show that the gender pay gap is smaller among employees who are in a union as opposed to those who are not.


This post originally appeared on Femme Frugality on August 27, 2012.  If you think any of the information regarding maternity leaves is out of date, please notify me so I am able to research and update.

65 thoughts on “Maternity Leave Laws Don’t Affect Pay in Gender Inequality

  1. Holly@ClubThrifty

    This is great! American maternity leave policies truly suck. I got lucky because my work paid for my maternity leave but I know so many people who had to go completely unpaid for theirs. I personally think 6 weeks is way too short. Six weeks after having a baby, I was hardly functioning as a regular person. I took ten weeks and I thought that was the absolute minimum that was reasonable!

    1. femmefrugality

      Every person is different, but six weeks is way short. The only reason that’s advised that I can tell is because of the medical/physical healing that goes on. Forget the hormones and your brain. Oh, and lack of sleep. I’d rather go back after a longer period of time but be ready to do great work rather than come back as a crazy zombie. I’m glad your company paid for yours! A lot of them don’t.

  2. Gillian @ Money After Graduation

    It’s interesting to learn about maternity leave worldwide. In Canada, I think we have it pretty good (from what I’ve heard from my friends who are mothers, which isn’t too many yet!), but I just really hope I can get a job that is full-time with benefits, etc. before I have to start worrying about it.

  3. The Cheapskate Mom

    American maternity leave really is a sad situation. There is also a lack of education about one’s rights while pregnant. I kept my pregnancy hush hush at work for five months because I feared losing my job and health insurance! It meant I had to do more strenuous labor than I probably should have been doing because I didn’t want anyone to know!

    1. femmefrugality

      I couldn’t agree more. While companies can’t fire you because you’re pregnant, it can be stressful that they will find another “reason.” No one should be so scared that they put their physical health in danger, but it’s the sad truth.

  4. MyMoneyDesign

    This is really interesting, but really sad at the same time. My 8-year-old son wants to grow up and move to Denmark to work at the Lego HQ, so I’ll have to let him know what great benefits the country has! 🙂

    1. femmefrugality

      That would be such a cool job! I think some of those people that build the crazy megaliths are actually engineers…could make some big bucks someday!

      I think our country’s policy and attitude towards maternity leave is sad. But I think that it’s good to know, and even an uplifting thing to know, that just because you take it or feel like you need some time to take care of your baby or your own body doesn’t mean you’re doing something detrimental to women’s rights.

  5. Shawanda

    Please do one of these for obesity rates and health care costs. I’m tired of hearing about how we pay exponentially more money for substandard health care than any country in the world because we’re fat. Although, I do think a portion of the gender pay gap can be attributed to women taking extended periods of time (more than maternity leave) off work.

    Does the government, i.e., the tax payers, cover maternity leave in these other countries? I’m trying to cut us some slack here.

    1. femmefrugality

      I’ll look into it! It may be harder to find reliable studies for things of that nature in the political climate the whole health care situation is under right now, but definitely worth researching.

      Parental leave is extended leave to care for your children. It’s a foreign concept here, but most of these countries offer it. The numbers just don’t match up to prove that taking that time off is contributing to the gender pay gap. France does offer 3 years and has a pretty low ranking, but Sweden has pretty much a whole year when you add things up, and their ranking is four. It would appear (stress on this, because I’m no expert) that there is no link between the two.

      Each country is different. Some mandate that the individual companies must pay, some pay through social security (or its equivalent,) and some are a mixture of both. That could be a WHOLE other post. Lol. The point isn’t really to bash the US’s policy or lack thereof (although I would like it to be considerably better,) but more to demonstrate that just because you take a lot of maternity or parental leave doesn’t mean you should or in reality are getting paid less because of it. The gap needs to be closed, but there are other ways to approach it that may be healthier for your body and psyche.

  6. Shilpan

    I think you have articulated your thoughts well. One point I disagree with(and you somewhat too!) is the concept of unionizing. There was a time in history for unions to play a vital role, but now unions are anti-business and somewhat drag on the economy in my humble opinion.

    1. femmefrugality

      I think they are sometimes. I can also see a flip side of it, though, as the industry I’m entering is unionized around here, and the pay and benefits for employees are considerably higher than anywhere else I’ve lived or worked. I don’t know how I feel about it. It’s a weird phenomenon at the state it’s in now.

  7. Kim@Eyesonthedollar

    I own my business and I still went back to work at 6 weeks post partum. There just wasn’t anyone to fill in for me and if I don’t work, no one gets paid. That being said, I was a total zombie with severe mommy guilt. I feel sorry for any poor patient I saw for that first 3 months. I would strongly encourage girls to study math and science and become the ones in charge. That’s really when change in perception of what acceptable time off might happen.

    1. femmefrugality

      That’s a toughie. You’d completely have to go back in that situation, or pay someone you really trusted to take over for a bit. Neither is ideal. I agree about the math and science.

  8. jefferson @seedebtrun

    Michelle decided to stay at home when we had our most recent baby, partly because we couldn’t get a decent maternity leave from her job.. I wish our country would catch up with the rest of the world. Mothers are one of our true national treasures!

    1. femmefrugality

      You just got brownie points with all the mothers out there!

      That’s messed up that something like maternity leave benefits can effect people’s career decisions so much. I’m sure there were other factors, too, but I know how influential the benefits during that period can be. It’s really not right and I’m really sorry you guys had to go through that.

  9. SB

    Great research.If you see these countries or their businesses do not indulge in cut throat competition. Also most of these countries have declining population, they encourage having babies. Prolonged leave duration is often used as one of those perks

  10. Meredith

    My husband went to Switzerland once and came back full of info about their maternal/paternal leave. I have been crushing on hightailing it out of America ever since…ahh, why oh why can’t we get on board? Thanks for this info–really interesting.

  11. Halee G.

    Great article, I really enjoyed it. It’s sad when companies put money first before families. That’s what’s wrong with this country… GREED.


  12. Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter

    I cant’ complain. I live in Canada where we get a years leave that can be split between both parents. I lose a portion of my income but I still get some money rolling in which makes a big difference. I definitely don’t take it forgranted.

    1. femmefrugality

      That’s so great. I may have to add Canada to my list. I know you all have higher taxes, but I’ve got to say I’m envious of quite a few of your benefits. Quite a few.

  13. Lacey Timony-Salls

    The US Military gives new mothers 6-weeks with full pay and benefits. They also earn vacation days while on maternity leave, or Convalescent Leave as it’s called. Plus, fathers can get 2-weeks of paternity leave.

  14. CF @ OutlierModel

    Another Canadian here. I always thought year long leaves were normal for maternity. Then when I was in college and US recruiters started coming by, that’s when I first heard them talk about their “great” benefits, including 6 weeks of mat leave. Um, what! lol. That’s only two weeks longer than my vacation time!

    I think giving mothers and fathers parental leaves can only be a good thing. It encourages educated, working parents to have children without fear of losing their jbos.

  15. Niki

    What a great and informative post!! It’s so funny (funny weird not funny haha) how so many other countries are surpassing the US in equality (for everyone) and education. Not that I am unAmerican or anything but I think we have room for much improvement.

    1. femmefrugality

      I don’t think you’re being unpatriotic at all. I love my country, too. But I think one of the most patriotic things we can do is question our system and use our freedom of speech to advocate for change. If something’s wrong, we the people have the power to fix it if we wish to do so. And that’s the greatest thing about America.

  16. Ornella @ Moneylicious

    Interesting stats…I didn’t know Iceland was number 1. We still need improvement…better work/life balance. Some companies are doing better than others. Of course if you are a successful entrepreneur or business person, you may have more flexibility.

  17. Anonymous

    In NZ (I live here and work for the IRD -tax dept) you get a maximum of $475.16 (if you are on salary/wages) for 14 weeks, $6652.24 for the whole 14 weeks. It depends on your income, if you earn less than 475.16 (before tax) you get that. Having said that there is a push afoot to get that to 28 weeks, which would be aces, I’m really pleased that NZ offers PPL, I just wish it were more and for longer!

    1. femmefrugality

      Ah! Thanks so much for the info! So it’s only 100% if you make less than that allotted amount. That’s still better than us…nothing unless you work for a sympathetic company! I really hope they get it pushed to 28 weeks for you guys!

  18. mrsplungedindebt

    I’m currently on Mat leave in Canada. Through the government we’re allowed 52weeks (combined maternity and parental leave)at 55% of your income to a maximum of $567/week. Most larger companies in Canada ‘top up’ your mat leave usually up to 80-100% of your income. I work for a small company so only get the government portion which is about 40% of my working income, not ideal but through good budgeting, hubby and I are making it work. I’m luck to have the option of being home 52 weeks with my daughter.

    1. femmefrugality

      Thanks for sharing your story! That’s so great that you guys have so long. And the compensation might not be at 100%, but I imagine that 55% allows people, including yourself, to at least function for a year. I’m so happy for your fam!

  19. Lisa @ Gone with the Family

    Canadian families definitely appreciate the maternity benefits that we have here. I worked for a large bank when my older daughter was born and my benefits were topped up to 100% of my income for several weeks and then to 80% for the balance of the time that I took off. The benefits are great for financial reasons but it’s also nice that the government’s maternity leave policy provides that women have to be given back the same job (or an equivalent one with equal pay) after the leave has ended. Here’s the link to an interesting article that appeared in the Globe & Mail earlier this year comparing the Canadian and US system.

  20. femmefrugality

    You’re right; there is the FMLA. Those benefits cover you IF you work more than 26 hours a week at a place for over a year before your leave and they employ more than 50 people. A lot of qualifiers (granted, that most people will fall into,) but it does require them to give you your position back at the same pay and continue your health insurance benefits, if you have any, during that time period. It does not require them or the gov’t to offer any sort of continuance of your pay while you’re on leave.

    There is short term disability. But every employer I’ve had that “offers” it does so by bringing in a separate insurance agent to sell it to you. Can be worth it if you’re in child bearing years, but sometimes….

    Thank you for the clarifications.

  21. Anonymous

    In Norway, the rules were changed from July 1, 2011. Now, you get 47 weeks at 100 % pay, or 57 weeks at 80 % pay, your choice. Of this, 3 weeks before the birth and six weeks after are earmarked for the mother. 12 weeks are earmarked for the father. Beyond that, a family can decide on their own how to divide the weeks between them.

    There is also the right to working four day weeks and having one day off, or working half weeks to dole out the leave over longer periods.

  22. Meghan

    Here, here! Great post! The family leave policies in the US are atrocious and we as a nation should be ashamed of them. My husband took six weeks off after the recent birth of our son (using more than a year’s worth of accrued sick and vacation days to do so) and I still thought it wasn’t long enough, though I know it is MUCH longer than most fathers take. Not only do we need to work to change the laws to allow mothers longer maternity leaves, we need laws to change to allow fathers longer paternity leaves too, not doing so perpetuates the gender gap in child rearing.

  23. Ben Luthi

    Maternity leaves here are horrid. It’s amazing to me that we claim to be among the most modern and gender-conscious countries in the world, yet this isn’t even on the agenda for politicians. Birth control is though! The irony isn’t lost on me.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Ha! And the fact that the argument around birth control exists is so against women’s rights I can’t even stand it.

  24. donebyforty

    My wife and I just talked about this issue yesterday on a long ride home from CA. It’s a messed up system that aims to continue the status quo: intentional or not, it’s another institution that helps keep women earning less.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      It’s a smoke screen. The fact that other countries have much more generous laws around maternity leave, yet have a smaller gap in pay for men vs. women makes the entire argument moot. And some of the other countries have a much better maternity leave policy, but a larger gap. It’s a non-factor, but people continue to use it as an excuse.

  25. Kayla @ Everything Finance

    I have been thinking about this too. Not because of my wanting to have children, but several of my friends are currently pregnant and I think they need to be aware of their company’s policy on maternity leave and pay status as it can have a huge effect on your finances.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Yeah that’s one of the #1 things to do when you find out. There really isn’t a norm, just a very loose safety net that doesn’t pay out, just “guarantees” you won’t get fired.

  26. Taylor Lee @ Engineer Cents

    “Study fields that are traditionally occupied by men.” — This one kills me. It’s such a sad state of affairs that we live in a country where “women’s work” (e.g. education, social services, etc.) is valued less than “men’s work”.

    Also, as an aside, as someone in a very male-dominated field, I personally am terrified that taking maternity leave is going to absolutely kill my career. Does anyone have experience with this / how did it work out?

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