What's the deal with Parental Leave in America?

And how does the U.S. stack up against other countries?

(Spoiler alert: not very well.)

By Sam Vickars and Michael Hester

A Brief History of Parental Leave Policies in the United States

During his first term as president, Bill Clinton passed the Family and Medical Leave Act, providing 12 weeks of federally-mandated unpaid leave to new parents. The bill aimed to address a major shift in the American workplace -- the percentage of working mothers with children under 18 jumped from 35 percent in 1965 to 67 percent in 1992.

“I believe that this legislation is a response to a compelling need—the need of the American family for flexibility in the workplace. American workers will no longer have to choose between the job they need and the family they love.” - Bill Clinton, 1993

Since then, the need for flexibility has only grown, with more and more parents having full-time jobs. Yet federal policies haven’t changed. Both Obama and Trump have advocated for paid family leave, but neither have succeeded in getting any legislation across the finish line. Some American cities and states have even agreed to provide paid leave to their residents, but these initiatives still fall short. Paid leave remains unavailable to 114 million workers in the United States, and nearly half of the population who qualify for unpaid leave are unable to take it due to financial reasons.

As a result, the burden has fallen on the private sector to draw up their own individual policies. Recently, large companies have responded to the call. Based on user-reported data from FairyGodBoss.com, we’ve mapped out the family leave policies offered by America’s ten biggest employers to serve as a snapshot for what the U.S. has to offer.

Parental Leave Provided by Top U.S. Companies

How some of America's biggest employers treat new parents

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Amazon and IBM, the two largest tech employers, lead the way with 20 weeks of paid maternity leave. Berkshire Hathaway falls on the other side of the spectrum at just five weeks, the smallest amount among America’s ten largest companies. Paternity leave numbers were missing for four of the ten companies shown, but in general tend to be much less generous.

What U.S. Companies Offer the Best Maternity and Paternity Leave?

The parental leave policies from America’s largest employers gives us a good starting place for our analysis. But it’s hard to truly understand the landscape of American policies by looking at just ten employers. That’s why we dug even deeper into FairyGodBoss’ crowdsourced data to uncover the policies of nearly 1,500 U.S. employers. This gives us a more accurate depiction of what the average company offers, who’s leading the pack, and who’s falling behind.

See for yourself below, using the filters to show paid or unpaid, sort by industry, or find a specific company.

Length of Parental Leave for 1,500 U.S. Companies

A look at maternity and paternity leave offered across 30 industries

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A look at the distribution makes it clear that there is no “standard” leave policy in America. Most paid maternity leave policies do seem to fall within a range of six to twelve weeks. But plenty of companies offer no leave, while others like Netflix and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation dole out a full year.

At the industry level, legal services leads the way with the most generous maternity leave options. Across the 96 legal firms for which we have data, employees are granted nearly 15 weeks of paid maternity leave on average. Financial services groups and tech companies followed close behind, with an average of more than ten weeks.

Healthcare employers and American universities stand out for their less forgiving policies. Across 91 companies in the healthcare space, only AccentHealth has a maternity leave policy that exceeds 12 weeks. Meanwhile, over 75% of the colleges and universities in our dataset offer paid maternity leave of six weeks or less.

Maternity and Paternity Leave by Country

While American employers have been busy upping their paid parental leave, the United States still hasn’t budged on federal policies. And that fact looks even worse in comparison to the benefits that other nations provide.

The U.S. is an Outlier on Parental Leave

Comparing federally mandated parental leave by country

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Out of 36 developed countries (according to the UN's classification), the United States remains the only country that doesn’t offer government sponsored, paid maternity leave. Six countries offer 52 weeks or more, with Sweden leading at 68 weeks. Even Hong Kong -- which ranks second to last on the list -- offers ten weeks, or two more weeks than U.S. private companies offer on average according to our analysis.

In terms of paid paternity leave, America shares the bottom spot with eleven other countries that offer zero weeks paid.

All in all, the numbers indicate that a change in U.S. federal policies may be long overdue.


We grabbed the top ten employers from Fortune’s 2017 list.

Parental leave policies for each company came from FairyGodBoss.com, which provides estimates based on crowdsourced data. Using the company locations listed on the site, we winnowed that list down to 1,493 based in the U.S., which were used to create our second visualization.

Information on parental leave policies in other countries came from the ILO’s global report on maternity and paternity policies. The UN’s classification for developed countries can be found in the ‘Country Classification’ section of the UN’s ‘World Economic Situation and Prospects’ report found here.

Nerd Notes:

Graphics were made in D3.js