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Do you agree with your maternal rights? Read how they differ to other countries. 

pregnant lady smallEmployment rates of mothers with young children have increased in almost all Western countries over the past thirty years. There is strong evidence displaying that family leave allowance increases the likelihood that a woman will return to employment after childbirth. This article compares the maternity rights across the UK, US, Sweden and Japan.

Here in the UK, most women are entitled to statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks, this also applies for paternity leave and for parents who adopt. 90% of weekly earnings are paid to a mother in the first 6 weeks; the remaining 33 weeks are paid at a reduced rate of £145 per week or 90% of weekly earnings – whichever is the lowest. Women are entitled to 52 weeks off work, meaning that the final 13 weeks of maternity are without pay. The rate in which maternity leave in the UK is paid works out at 30.9% of a parent’s former salary, this equates to 12.1 weeks of full pay. Having said that, some working women may be entitled to contractual maternity pay depending on their career type. This can include 26 weeks full pay, followed by 13 weeks of statutory pay. If this is provided, there may often be a clause in the contract stating that the employee must return to work otherwise they are obliged to repay an amount of their maternity pay. Statistics show that in England in 2017, 65.1% of mothers were in employment compared to 55.8% in 1997. While some mothers in the UK may be dissatisfied with the maternity rights, it appears that we fall into line with many countries across the world.

This table (figure 1) by the Leave Network ranks the UK with the highest number of months allocated off work for parental leave. However, figure 2 compares the same countries by their amount of maternity pay, where the UK drastically declines.

Figure 1: 


Figure 2:

chart 2

In the US, research shows that nearly one quarter of mothers return to work within just 2 weeks. Most women in the US rely on the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which protects jobs for up to 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. Both women and men are entitled to maternity leave for 12 weeks, although this will more than likely be unpaid and there are restrictions to who is eligible. Unfortunately, in reality, only 13% of workers have access to maternity leave in the US. However, some states do offer partially paid leave, such as California, but they are in the overwhelming minority. California law guarantees most employees up to six weeks of leave per year at 70% or 60% of their weekly wage, depending upon their salary. With these conclusions, it is not surprising that in 2014, nearly 70% of American mothers were employed or looking for work and 70% of those worked full time. This information is intriguing on account of only 16% of Americans thinking that mothers should work full time.

Sweden have some of the most favourable maternity laws in the world. Both parents are granted a substantial amount of time with their new-born baby at a favourable pay rate. Swedish laws allow parents 480 days of paid leave to split between themselves as they desire, although each parent must take at least 90 days. The time off can be saved until the child is 8 or in some cases 12 years old, thus allowing plenty of time for parents to have another child and reset their allowances, while also enabling them to combine their left-over days to extend summer trips or family time away. It is claimed that five deliberately spaced children could allow a parent 10 years absence from work and still enable them to reclaim their job afterwards. Swedish parents receive 390 days paid at 80% of their regular pay and the remaining 90 days at $22 per day. In Sweden, more than 70% of mothers with children work, such outcomes are helped by the fact that mothers are able to reduce their working hours when children are young.

Japanese parents are entitled to parental leave until their child reaches the age of one. This can be extended to 18 months if only one parent takes leave. Typically, companies do not pay salary during leave because social insurance covers the employee’s salary. According to a survey in 2015, only 31% of employees returned to work after a year of giving birth. So why do Japanese women not return to work? Research shows that 70% of women give up work after their first-born child due to unfeasible working hours. In Tokyo, it is common for many employees to work twelve or more hours a day, despite contracts claiming an 8-hour day. Another significant factor for not returning to work is the lack of childcare facilities. Statistics show that 20,000 children are waiting for places in day care centres in Japan, where childcare can cost $1000 per month at a state nursery.

This table breaks down leave provisions for parents across the four countries discussed.

 chart3 new4

Interestingly, the birth rate in the US is higher than any of the other countries discussed in this article. Out of 225 countries, the US birth rate ranked at 157th shortly followed by the UK at 165th and Sweden at 166th. Despite having adequate maternity rights in Japan, they fell to very bottom of the birth rate statistics at 222nd, implying that the factors earlier considered are significant components with Japanese families.

There are many contrasting opinions for why women return or do not return to work after their maternity leave. Out of 866 mothers surveyed in the UK, 77% said that household finance concerns were a key factor for them when deciding whether to return to work. We would assume that this is also the case in the US due to their restricted paid parental leave. It has been found that parents were more likely to return to work if their job offered flexible working hours, although we are aware that this is not an option in most countries, including the UK in many circumstances.

The NCT completed a survey where in total, 1541 mums in the UK participated to constitute this data.
This table shows UK mothers’ responses for returning to work. The most common reasons were financial necessity (68%), a desire for intellectual stimulus (48%) and a desire for social contact with other adults (35%).


Respondents were asked to indicate all their concerns about returning to work. The most common concern related to childcare (60%) and over half of the women were worried about their child missing them (53%). This table presents mothers other concerns for returning to work.

table 5 new




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