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      IWD2019: Which countries are supporting working mothers best?

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      With studies showing that as many working women have children, as those who don’t, it is clear that a large percentage of women are juggling careers with motherhood.

      And recent research from Catalyst shows women account for 40 per cent or more of the total labour force in several countries, making flexible working hours, extended maternal leave, breastfeeding rooms, free education and free healthcare just a few of the ways that some countries build the best working environments for mothers.

      Instant Offices has looked at the countries with the most progressive approaches into maternity, and general parental leave around the world, including additional benefits encouraging mothers to be comfortable and engaged at work before, during and after pregnancy.

      The results: European countries are some of the most progressive for maternity leave and benefits for working mothers.

      Countries with the Most Maternity Leave


      Sweden – Provides 480 days of maternity leave

      Sweden offers one of the most progressive working environments for parents, which exceeds international standards. Parents are entitled to up to 80 per cent of their regular pay for 390 of the 480 days of maternity leave provided, while mothers in jobs that require heavy lifting, or more risky work are also entitled to take time off earlier during their pregnancy.

      Each parent:

      • Receives 240 of 480 days of paid parental leave
      • Is entitled to 90 days exclusively for him or her
      • Has the right to shorten their work hours by up to 25 per cent until the child turns eight (although only being paid for the time worked)

      Norway – Offers 49 weeks with 100% pay or 59 weeks with 80% pay

      Mastering the art of the work-life balance, the Norwegian Parliament decided to increase the quota of paternity and maternity leave for new parents in 2018. Parents now reive 49 weeks of leave at 100 per cent pay or 59 weeks at 80 per cent.

      Croatia – Offers a year of paid maternity leave with 100% pay

      In addition to a year of being able to bond with your new-born, full paid parental leave is available for 120 days in Croatia.

      The country’s protective attitude towards mother’s at work has ensured there are laws in place to ensure:

      • Workers who are expecting are provided with free ante and post-natal medical care
      • Mothers have breastfeeding breaks of over an hour until the child is a year old
      • Workers are protected from dismissals during pregnancy and maternity leave

      The UK – Required to offer one year of leave to new mothers

      Receiving 90 per cent of their original pay, new mothers are legally allowed up to 52 weeks of maternity leave:

      • Ordinary Maternity Leave – first 26 weeks
      • Additional Maternity Leave – last 26 weeks
      • You may be entitled to take some of your leave as shared parental leave, although this must be taken within the first year after your child is born


      Mothers in Serbia are entitled to 20 weeks of leave at full pay after giving birth, with an additional year after that, however lowering over time:

      • For the first 26 weeks – 100 per cent pay
      • Weeks 27 – 39 – 60 per cent pay
      • Weeks 40 – 52 – 30 per cent pay

      On the other end of the scale, some of the countries with the shortest maternity leave/least benefits include:

      Philippines – Previously only six weeks, the Philippines has recently extended the law for paid maternity leave to 105 days.

      Australia – Although mothers can receive up to 18 weeks of leave, it is paid at the national minimum wage.

      United States – The law most women rely on is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects women’s jobs for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption, however it doesn’t guarantee pay for the time off.

      Maternity Leave and the Gender Pay Gap

      Research by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals a sharp drop in women’s earning after maternity leave, with no decrease in salary for men. The study also showed, from the birth of their first child, women end up making 20 per cent less than men throughout their career.

      In Denmark, childbearing accounts for 80 per cent of the gender wage gap, as women move to more flexible hours with fewer hours and lower wages once they’ve had children; versus men whose careers go mostly unchanged.  

      With many European countries moving towards better equality around parental leave, men are more encouraged to take time off after the birth of their child, and policies which bring more equity to the workforce are growing as a trend. 

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      Katy Phillips


      All stories by: Katy Phillips