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Where Did the Idea of Paid Parental Leave Originate?

The concept of paid parental leave has roots in early 20th-century Europe, where social welfare policies began to prioritize family support. It reflects an understanding of the crucial role that bonding and early child care play in long-term societal health. How has this idea evolved, and what can we learn from its history? Join us as we examine its transformative journey.

No one deserves to take it easy (as if caring for a new baby was easy) more than a new mother, but if you give birth in the United States, don't expect a break. Although every other developed nation offers at least four weeks of paid parental leave – and most offer many more – Americans aren't guaranteed any.

According to the Pew Research Center, only 21 percent of Americans are provided with paid parental leave by their employers. In an area that is important to most American families, the U.S. has been behind for over 100 years – despite hosting the conference that first called for paid family leave over a century ago. In 1919, at the International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C, delegates from around the world called for the universal acceptance of 12 weeks of leave, calling it "a medical necessity and social right." This was adopted by the International Labor Organization as the Maternity Protection Convention (1919).

Although the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention back in 1919 (spurred on by the International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C.), the U.S. still does not mandate any paid parental leave.
Although the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention back in 1919 (spurred on by the International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C.), the U.S. still does not mandate any paid parental leave.

Some nations implemented the policy quickly, but it wasn't until World War II that it really took hold, as war-ravaged countries saw the need to repopulate. Although 37 of the 38 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have based their policies on the ILO's 1919 convention, America didn't follow suit, and still hasn't.

Parental (don't) leave:

  • Although there is no federal mandate, a handful of U.S. states have paid parental leave policies in place.

  • In the American private business sector, 25 percent of women must return to work within two weeks of giving birth.

  • Two million federal employees gained access to 12 weeks of parental leave thanks to a law that went into effect in October 2020.

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    • Although the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention back in 1919 (spurred on by the International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C.), the U.S. still does not mandate any paid parental leave.
      Although the International Labor Organization adopted the Maternity Protection Convention back in 1919 (spurred on by the International Congress of Working Women in Washington, D.C.), the U.S. still does not mandate any paid parental leave.