Lessons in paid family leave from parents around the world

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Secondary school teacher Sarah Ward at home on maternity leave with her three month old daughter Esme Kelliher, is in the last week of her paid parental leave allowance ahead of the New Zealand Federal Budget release, on May 5, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)
Secondary school teacher Sarah Ward at home on maternity leave with her three month old daughter Esme Kelliher, is in the last week of her paid parental leave allowance ahead of the New Zealand Federal Budget release, on May 5, 2015 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

When Isra’a Hamdeh daughter was born in Amman, she went on maternity leave guaranteed to her by the nation of Jordan.

“The leave is for 70 days here in Jordan. It’s by law," she says. "And you get paid for the full 70 days for the whole amount. By the government.”

Isra’a also lived in the U.S. for a while, where she gave birth to her son.

“Back in 2010, I had a job in California. The experience is completely different. I was working at that time in a retail store and it was hourly," she says. "You work, get paid. Don't work, you don't get paid for that hour."

But what are the proven benefits of parental leave?

“It leads to much lower infant mortality," professor Jody Heymann says. "And we see more breastfeeding. We see lower infection rates.”

Today, On Point: About 180 countries have some sort of paid parental leave. We hear from moms around the world about how those nations made it work.


Isra’a Hamdeh, accountant with the real estate investment firm Near East Group.

Jody Heymann, director of UCLA’s WORLD Policy Analysis Center and a professor of public health. (@heymann_jody)

Find a map of maternity leave around the world here.

Dr. Raisa Renner, gynecological oncologist. She just returned to work last Friday after taking a four month maternity leave.

Tilde Bang-Kristensen, mother of a three-month old boy. Host of a morning radio show on Danish Public Radio called Morgenbeatet (Morning Beat).

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Ayumi Takita, mother of a 23-month-old in Tokyo, Japan.

Show Highlights: Reflections on a young mom's experience with paid parental leave in Japan

The United States, the richest country in the world, does not offer paid parental leave. But the story of parental leave looks a lot different in Japan. Ayumi Takita works for a nonprofit foundation in Tokyo, and she's also a young mother. Below she shares her story:

AYUMI TAKITA: I am a mom of a 23-month-old girl. And I got pregnant in 2018, and I had my baby November 11, 2018.

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Now in Japan, there is paid leave before and after the birth of the baby. The program has two components: maternity leave and child care leave. It adds up to a year of paid leave, although Ayumi didn't take the full 52 weeks.

TAKITA: So in Japan, you can get the maternity leave six weeks before the due date, the expected due date. So my maternity leave started in the end of September. And after my birth, I can take eight weeks of maternity leave, as well. So I was off until the next January. Then also, I took the child care leave until this May.

CHAKRABARTI: And before she had her child, Ayumi used to travel to the United States for work, and she admired the American women she worked with.

TAKITA: I was in New York, I saw a lot of my colleagues in think-tanks or at universities who were pregnant ... working until really close to the due date. And they come back to work a couple of weeks later, a couple of months later, I thought, I respected that. I respected the style of their working and I thought I would do that, too. I would come back soon. But actually, after my birth, I was like, Oh my God, I can't work. I really didn't have time. I didn't have energy. So I felt fortunate that I can take longer maternity leave.

CHAKRABARTI: And Ayumi realized how valuable Japan's paid National Family Leave program was to her family.

TAKITA: It was very important. It's a relief that you have your income. Having a child cost you money and even if you are not working, you're very busy taking care of your child, and the actual fact that you can get the allowance during that time was really a relief.

Interview Highlights: How paid family leave works in Denmark

Tilde Bang-Kristensen reflects on paid leave in Denmark

Tilde Bang-Kristensen: "There's the leave also before the baby's born, everyone gets four weeks from your due date. And you come back. I was able to leave five weeks before because my workplace offers up to eight weeks before birth. And I ended up actually having seven weeks before I gave birth, because he was two weeks late from the due date. And then afterwards there are 14 weeks of maternity leave, which is for everyone. And then we get 32 weeks that we can share between the parents as we wish that are paid for by the government."

What difference does this time make for your family?

Tilde Bang-Kristensen: "It's just such a relief for us to be able to to do that, to be with our child and to give him that starting life, that is just us taking care of him. I'm able to nurse him from home. I had a good pregnancy. I wasn't bothered by it, so it wouldn't have been a problem for me to work until later. But some of my friends, they were really bothered by the pregnancy in the end. So they were so grateful that they had the opportunity to leave work and just relax until birth. And especially after birth. I can really recognize ... just not being able to walk, being sleep deprived, being so emotional that half of it could be enough. So I couldn't imagine going back to work. And that would just be me, a radio host sitting and crying on the radio.

On how much salary is covered during these periods of leave 

Tilde Bang-Kristensen: "The four weeks before is covered in total and the 14 weeks also covered in total. And then I actually have another 13 weeks, which is something my workplace has decided to give to  new mothers. And it's the same if you're a dad working at the Danish Broadcasting Company, you get 12 weeks, which is paid in total. You get your full salary."

Does this work for people who also work at private companies in Denmark?

Tilde Bang-Kristensen: "It's a bit up to the company, how they choose to do it. You're as a mom guaranteed to get the 14 weeks paid in full salary. And afterwards you have the 32 weeks. And if you don't get your full salary, you get benefits that you can claim instead of. And it's also while you're getting your full salary, your employer gets the reimbursement of your benefits."

How do you pay into this system?

Tilde Bang-Kristensen: "You pay some money to be a part of this unemployment insurance fund, which covers the benefits you need while you're on leave."

This program aired on November 3, 2021.


Headshot of Stefano Kotsonis

Stefano Kotsonis Senior Producer, On Point
Stefano Kotsonis is a senior producer for WBUR's On Point.


Headshot of Meghna Chakrabarti

Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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