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Jennifer Craw
by Jennifer Craw

One clear difference between the top-performing education systems and the United States is the level of support offered to young families even before children enter the school system. This is particularly true when it comes to paid maternity leave. This month we take a look at how long paid maternity leave is provided and at what level of pay each of the top-performing countries guarantees its new mothers.[1]


As a nation, the U.S. does not guarantee its mothers any paid maternity leave, and, at the state level, only three states do: California and New Jersey guarantee 6 weeks and Rhode Island guarantees 4 weeks for employed mothers.

The next chart shows at what rate mothers are paid during their maternity leave in each country.


While the United States does guarantee 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents who are employed under the Family Medical Leave Act, top performing countries not only offer paid leave to new mothers, but most offer extended periods of paid or unpaid leave to either parent. Japan offers new mothers and fathers each a full year of unpaid leave after the 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. Poland guarantees up to 154 weeks of leave to either parent, the first 26 weeks at 60 percent of pay, a flat rate for the next 78 weeks and a final 26 weeks of unpaid leave. Finland offers paternity leave of 11 weeks at 70 percent of pay, and another 26 weeks for either parent at 70 percent of pay.

Finally, a reminder of how well the children of these mothers perform on international assessments, specifically the mean score for each country on the mathematics portion of the PISA 2012 exam.


Student performance in the top performing countries far outpaces that of the United States. This is the result of many factors, from highly-qualified teachers to aligned instructional systems. The support offered to new parents is also a factor.[accordion]


[1] Canada: Employment Insurance Maternity and Parental Benefits, Service Canada, 2014-11-21.

Estonia: Parental Benefit, Republic of Estonia Social Insurance Board,

Finland: Finland: Universal services and financial benefits to promote the well-being of all children and families, Europa.edu

Hong Kong: Labour Legislation: Frequently Asked Questions, Labour Department

Japan: Japan Maternity and Child Care Leave, Japan Payroll & Benefits

Poland: Poland: Employees Gain New Rights to Parental Leave, Towers Watson

Singapore: Maternity Leave, Ministry of Manpower, Singapore

South Korea: Maternity Employment Protection and Rights, Angloinfo

Taiwan: Maternity Leave, Angloinfo

United States: Family and Medical Leave Act, United States Department of Labor

California, New Jersey, Rhode Island: 10 Things You Need to Know About Maternity, TechRepublic