Featured, Gender, Labour Market, New Data, Well-being

Paid parental leave: Big differences for mothers and fathers

6 minute read

By Willem Adema (Willem.Adema@oecd.org), Jonas Fluchtmann (Jonas.Fluchtmann@oecd.org), Alexandre Lloyd (Alexandre.Lloyd@oecd.org) and Valentina Patrini (Valentina.Patrini@oecd.org), Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (OECD)

Employment-protected paid parental leave is a central element of family policy in most OECD countries. Paid parental leave primarily aims to support parents and children by letting both parents take time off paid work to care for a very young child. This is good for many things, including household finances, child development and parental well-being. Paid leave policies can also promote a better sharing of unpaid work within households by encouraging fathers to use their leave entitlements and get more involved in childcare.

Data on availability and use of paid leave entitlements is crucial for understanding the effectiveness of such policies. However, the design of paid leave policy varies markedly across countries, which complicates measuring progress in its use. The OECD Family Database provides an overview of parental leave systems and their use across OECD countries.

Very different experiences for mothers and fathers

As of April 2022, all but one OECD country offer paid maternity and paternity leave around childbirth at the national level, but countries differ markedly in the duration, payment, and uptake of these policies. On average across the OECD, paid maternity leave lasts for 18.5 weeks, but it can range from 43 weeks in Greece to none in the United States (though some US states do offer paid maternity leave) (Figure 1, Panel A). Most OECD countries also provide rights to paid paternity leave, but these entitlements are much shorter, averaging 2.3 weeks. Spain leads the list with 16 weeks – more than three times as long as Portugal, the second in the list. By contrast, four countries provide no more than a week of paid paternity leave and nine do not provide any at all (Figure 1, Panel B).

Figure 1: Duration of paid maternity leave and paid paternity leaves, April 2022

Note: a) In Austria, Chile, France, Germany and Lithuania, leave payments are based on net earnings and full-rate equivalent entitlement should not be compared directly with those payment rates for other countries, which are based on gross earnings. The full-rate equivalent entitlement for the OECD average is computed solely on those countries with payment rates based on gross earnings. b) Iceland, Norway and Sweden do not have a separate maternity leave, thus all maternal quotas are instead classified as maternity leave and do not appear as earmarked parental leave for mothers. For Finland, “weeks of paid paternity leave” includes only the three weeks of fathers-only leave that can be taken at the same time as the mother are classified as “paid paternity leave”. The remaining six weeks, which cannot be taken while the mother is on parental leave and are usually taken after the parental leave, are considered as weeks of “father-specific parental leave”. For Australia, it is assumed that mothers take the first 12-week block of Parental Leave Pay right after birth, practically as maternity leave. For New Zealand, the weeks of primary carer leave are recorded as maternity leave. For Portugal, the thirty days of “initial parental leave” that must be used by the father to qualify for the bonus weeks are recorded as father-specific leave. Additional notes and sources: OECD Family Database, Indicator PF2.1

All but 11 OECD countries also offer parents the opportunity to take extended time off work through paid parental and/or homecare leave, over the above maternity and paternity leave. With homecare leave lasting until the child’s third birthday, Finland provides the longest entitlements, while the average entitlement to parental and homecare leave in the OECD is 39 weeks (Figure 2).

Paid parental leave is often a family-based entitlement that mothers and fathers can share, but it is mostly used by mothers. This is related to the traditional gender roles surrounding childcare and unpaid work, but it is also motivated by financial factors as fathers often earn more than their partners, meaning household income suffers more if they use the leave entitlement.

Note: For a) and b), see note to Figure 1. c) In Japan, the periods of parental leave that are earmarked for mothers and fathers (or partners) must be used simultaneously if both parents are to use the entirety of their entitlement. Additional notes and sources: OECD Family Database, Indicator PF2.1

Encouraging fathers to use leave and participate in caregiving

Countries have implemented various policies to encourage fathers to take parental leave. In Nordic countries, non-transferable “use it or lose it” periods of leave are reserved for each parent. Austria, Canada, and Germany offer “bonus weeks” of additional paid leave if both parents use a certain portion of the family entitlement. Both approaches mean that some leave is effectively lost if fathers do not take it.

The EU Work-life Balance Directive, which requires a minimum of 10 working days of paternity leave and an individual right to 4 months of paid parental leave – including at least 2 months that cannot be shared with the partner – has spurred notable changes. Over the past five years, some EU countries have introduced or extended paid paternity leave, non-transferable leave for fathers, or individual entitlements for both parents. Other non-EU OECD countries have also adopted similar approaches to encourage take-up among fathers (Figure 3).

Following the evolution of leave use by fathers

Beyond data on leave entitlements, information on leave use is essential for understanding the uptake by mothers and fathers as well as the impacts of different leave policies. The OECD Family Database’ indicator “Use of childbirth-related leave benefits”, based on various national sources, shows that fathers are generally less likely to use parental leave than mothers (Figure 4). On average across countries with available data, men make up only about one in every four users/recipients, with the share in several countries lower than one in ten.

Notes and sources: *Data for the Unites States include public paid leave insurance benefits for pregnancy and/or family caregiving in some US states and districts, and contrary to other countries, this also includes employer-provided schemes. For more information see OECD Family Database, Indicator PF2.2

A more inclusive leave data-collection

With the increasing number of OECD countries that formally recognise same-sex marriages or partnerships, the inclusion of same-sex partners in family leave legislation is slowly advancing. Accordingly, the OECD Family Database was recently enriched with a new indicator on “Parental leave entitlements for same-sex and adoptive parents”.

In OECD countries, male same-sex parents have access to less leave entitlements than female same-sex parents. While male same-sex parents are eligible for parental leave in 14 OECD countries without adoption and in 9 countries through adoption, female same-sex parents are eligible for parental leave in 25 countries, irrespective of adoption (Figure 5).

Notes and sources: See OECD Family Database, Indicator PF2.6

Further improvements to leave data are needed

Obtaining better data on fathers’ use of family leave could reveal how it impacts their partners’ labour market outcomes, such as labour force participation, working hours, and wages. Similarly, collecting data on parental leave use by same-sex couples would enable a more thorough examination of how their balance of household and care responsibilities after parenthood differs from opposite-sex couples. The effects of parenthood, including the well-documented “motherhood penalty” and its impact on incomes in opposite-sex couples, could also be analysed for same-sex parents.

With the increase in earmarked entitlements for fathers, improved gender-disaggregated data collection could also shed light on the effects of these reforms. In general, better data on parental leave use by fathers and mothers can contribute to a broader research agenda on its connections with health, individual and family well-being, fertility, job satisfaction, productivity and the effects on co-workers and their employing firms.