United States Ranks Last in Providing Maternity Benefits

A study by the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) reports that working mothers in the United States are given the least generous maternity and nursing benefits in the industrialized world. ILO researchers investigated maternity leave and health benefits required by law in 152 countries. Eighty percent of the countries offer paid maternity leave to women; approximately one-third of those countries allow the leave to last longer than 14 weeks.

The study found that designated breaks for nursing mothers are allowed by law in more than 80 countries, including 45-minute breaks for nursing each day in the Netherlands and a choice between two 30-minute or 15 minute breaks every three hours in Haiti.

The report stated that in 30 percent of the world’s households, women contribute the principal source of income, and 80 percent of women in industrialized nations are expected to work outside the home during their child-bearing years within 10 years. Alfred J. Kahn, a Columbia University professor in comparative social policies commented, “…it has only been recently that the country has absorbed the fact that most women are working.”

The United States allows workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993. Many small business advocates oppose mandatory paid maternity leave and benefits, arguing that the government should not be telling them how to run their businesses.


Washington Post - February 16, 1998

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