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Mothers and Work: Is Mat Leave Really Necessary?

American mothers are in small company: they, along with mothers in Papua New Guinea, are the only countries in a recent UN study not without maternity leave.

The UN Study

The United Nations recently undertook a study where they looked at 185 member nations and found only two industrialized countries that don’t pay mothers for maternity leave. To put this in perspective, the United States is one of the world’s superpowers, a country of about 315 million that demands the world’s attention when it speaks. On the other end of the scale, Papua New Guinea is an island nation of about 7 million with a GDP of less than $3,000.

Other Countries

Our neighbors to the immediate north and south both get Social Security-paid maternity leave, while the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and just about all of Central America have a mixture of Social Security or State Social Assistance and Employers. The United States’ GDP at purchasing power parity is the largest of any single country, and is about 20% of the global total. Every other country offers mothers at least something, even if the liability is on the employer.

Benefits of Mat Leave

Maternity leave has plenty of advantages: mothers can stay at home and raise their children during the formative months; there’s a reduced need for expensive babysitting and daycare; the other parent can continue to work and bring home an income; the child gets the benefit of having its mother there; and the mother can continue to maintain placement and advancement at her career.


Maternity leave has to be paid by someone, and it usually ends up being the taxpayers. As well, employers have to hang onto a mother’s position until she returns, which means taking the time to train a temporary replacement only to get rid of them in a few months—an expensive process. And if the company chooses not to find a temporary replacement, then they are getting little or no output from the mother, but are still paying a part salary.


Countries in the world are starting to promote women in the workforce, with the no-look-back mentality of anyone who doesn’t move gets left behind. As the United States lags further and further behind other countries, women will naturally go to where the money is, which will leave a gaping employment hole in the country. Or if they don’t leave the country, they’ll go to work for companies that do offer paid maternity leave and that’ll lead to one of two things: companies that offer mat leave will grow and squeeze out companies that don’t, resulting in a growing gap between wealthy and starter companies, or the government will change its policies so mat leave is a federal necessity.

Paid maternity leave is something that exists in 183 out of 185 member nations of the UN. In a recent study, they found that the only two countries that didn’t offer paid mat leave were the United States and Papua New Guinea, two nations on opposite ends of the spectrum.


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