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How Maternity Pay in The UK Compares to The Rest of The World

Maternity pay in the UK compared to other countries.

Maternity pay in the UK

We are quite fortunate in the UK to have statutory maternity pay that provides mums with paid leave for up to 39 weeks, whether self-employed or employed. This is broken down as follows:

  • 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) are paid for the first 6 weeks
  • £172.48 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) is paid for the subsequent 33 weeks.

You can use this online maternity pay calculator to work out how much you can get. Whilst for many this will represent a significant drop in income, when compared to maternity pay from some countries it may seem like we have a pretty good deal in the UK. However, we are unfortunately lagging far behind our European neighbours. The levels of maternity pay and leave vary considerably around the world, with some mothers having extended periods of paid leave, whilst others get the bare minimum, with no pay.

The importance of maternity leave for a healthy mother and baby

Being a new mum is no easy task, with perhaps one of the biggest hurdles being able to get a good night sleep. You hear mums boasting about how their children slept right through the night from birth, but this is by no means the norm. In fact, many mums don’t get a full night’s sleep until their child is 3, and that’s if they are lucky! Based on this alone it is clear to see the importance of maternity leave for the wellbeing of mum and baby.

Some countries give maternity leave for 6 months. The justification being that the child can start eating solids by this stage and will therefore no longer be dependent on the mother’s milk. and subsequently doesn’t need mummy to be there 24/7. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth!
It is also important to remember how tired a mum is likely to be after 6 months of sleepless nights. This sort of fatigue builds up over time, not only leaving a person tired, but also mentally exhausted. Although newborns can be hard, there are still challenges at each stage, in particular during sleep regressions (or sleep progressions as I prefer to call them). Depending on the nature of mum’s work, making mistakes due to mental fatigue could prove costly, but in the worst cases even dangerous. These are just a few reasons why maternity leave should be longer than 6 months.

Which are the best and worst countries for paying maternity leave?

Maternity pay in the USA

Surprisingly, the USA comes pretty high on the list of countries with a poor record of maternity pay for new mums. In fact, it is probably one of the most talked about countries when it comes to maternity leave, probably due to the general perception of it being a wealthy nation. The truth is that most states do not offer it, or if they do it’s very short.

There is no federal maternity pay in the USA, meaning that with the exception of California and New Jersey, the government doesn’t pay you if you have a child. In the case of the aforementioned states, their current maternity policy at the time of writing states mums have to stay at home for 2 weeks postpartum, but after that can go back to work. Yes you did read that right…2 weeks!! I couldn’t imagine having the strength or energy to return to work 2 weeks after giving birth, let alone having to leave my baby.

America does have Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which allows mother to stay at home 12 weeks after baby is born, however they will receive no pay for doing so. The purpose of FMLA is to protect you from losing your job, and even then, 40% percent of pregnant women don’t qualify for it. Therefore, it is not hard to understand why some mums, particularly in low-income families, are forced back to work way earlier than they should be.

Potential negative ramifications of poor maternity leave packages

I was reading an article recently that discussed how the percentage of mothers who breastfeed in the USA is very low. In addition to this, America has the highest infant mortality rate out of the 28 wealthiest countries, and 1 mum out of 10 suffers from postpartum depression. The fact that mums are forced back to work early clearly must pay a large part in these statistics. At the end of the day maternity leave is not a holiday, and it is disappointing to find out that women in a 1st world country still have to choose between being a mother or having a career.

Maternity leave in Europe 

For the most part, Europe is way ahead of the UK when it comes to maternity pay, with some Scandinavian countries in particular standing out with their generous maternity leave packages. Sweden for example offers 480 days at home with 80% of pay covered, whilst Norway gives mums 49 weeks at full pay, or 59 weeks at 80%. Meanwhile in Denmark maternity leave benefits cover a 52 week period, with additional provisions for sharing paid leave between partners. By comparison, in Italy, you have just 5 months of maternity leave which is paid at 80% of your salary

This is a graphic taken from the European Parliament showing all European countries maternity leave.

Maternity pay around the world

Maternity leave in Asia 

China mandates 98 days of maternity leave, but if you are over 24 this can be extended as (believe it or not) it’s considered late childbirth.

The Social Security Bureau pays for the leave with contributions that are paid into the system every month as part of an employee’s social insurance deductions.

Japan allows 6 weeks prior to giving birth and 8 weeks after baby is born. The mother receives full salary pay throughout the 14 week period.

South Korea has a 45 day after birth policy and is paid based on the size of the company you work for.

India gives mothers 26 weeks of paid maternity for the first 2 children. For any further children the paid maternity is 12 weeks and up to 8 weeks can be used prior to baby’s arrival. In this case, it’s not the government that pays for the maternity but the company you work for, as such the pay is based on your normal daily wage.

We don’t fare too badly, but it could be better!

As we can see Europe and Asia have the best maternity leave, with the UK faring well against some EU countries but lacking behind others, notably the Scandinavian countries. The USA could certainly learn something from Europe here and offer mothers a better maternity leave package. It may be conjecture on my part to link things such as a low percentage of breastfeeding mums and high rates of postpartum depression directly to the amount of maternity leave offered, however, I believe this could be backed up scientifically if it hasn’t already been done.

Whatever amount of time you get wherever you are, don’t forget the most important thing. Make the most of the time you have to bond with your child. Take whatever help you can from your village when things are tough. Perhaps a neighbour popping round and letting you have an hours sleep could make all the difference to your week!


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