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Where Did the Idea of Paid Parental Leave Originate?

Updated May 16, 2024
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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).

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.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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