Countries with the best maternity leave in Europe: which are the policies and which European countries are the best for raising a child, offering most support and benefits?
Mother– and family-friendly policies matter because they help children to get a better start in life and help parents balance time caring for their child with the demands of paid work.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) recommends that countries provide maternity benefits for 14 weeks and a range of other protections for women in paid work.
Yet even some of the world’s richest countries fail to offer comprehensive solutions to all families.
Changes in parental leave policies
Historically, the design of maternity leave policies across the majority of the European countries is shaped by a traditional concept of leave intended only for women, linked to pregnancy, childbirth and the first months of motherhood.
However, over recent years many EU countries have made changes to the design of maternity leave provision through the introduction of, and changes to, the parental and paternity leave schemes, and by allowing mothers to transfer part of the maternity leave periods to the other parent.
These policy developments reflect calls for greater gender equality in the workforce and a more equal share of childcare responsibilities.
European countries with best parental leave
According to UNICEF’s latest report examining 41 countries across the EU and OECD and the benefits they offer to new mothers and families, such as paid maternity and parental leave, support for breastfeeding and affordable, high-quality childcare and preschool education.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Scandinavian countries hold the lead as the best places to raise a child. The region’s childcare arrangements are among the most generous in the world, supporting parents from the early days of pregnancy to school and beyond.
According to UNICEF’s report, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Portugal rank highest for family-friendly policies, while Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, United Kingdom and Ireland are among the lowest ranking countries.
These are some of the best European countries to be a mother.
New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of leave at 80% of their normal pay. That’s on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for mothers, after which the parents can split up the time however they choose. In Sweden fathers also get 90 paid paternity days of those 480 reserved just for them.
In Norway, mothers can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay, while fathers can take between zero and 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income. Together, parents can receive an additional 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income.
Starting in 2021, Finland gives all parents leave, regardless of their gender or whether they are a child’s biological parents. Under the new law, each parent is allowed 164 days, or about seven months. A single parent can take the amount of two parents, or 328 days.
New moms in Denmark get a total of 18 weeks of maternity leave: four weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after, all at full pay. During the 14-week period, the father can also take two consecutive weeks off. From that point on, parents can split 32 additional weeks of leave. By law, the government covers 52 weeks of pay, though not always at the full salary.
Belgium offers 15 weeks of paid maternity leave at a rate of 64.1% of the woman’s salary, which equates to 9.6 weeks of full-time pay. They can take this time all at once, or they can extend it, taking part-time leave over a period of up to 10 months. In addition, fathers can take up to 10 days leave.
Parents in Iceland can split their 12 months of post-childbirth leave straight down the middle. New moms get five months, new dads get five months, and then it’s up to the couple to decide how they’ll split the remaining two months.
Hungary offers 72 weeks of paid leave for mothers. The 24 weeks of maternity leave are paid at 70% of previous earnings, followed by parental leave paid at 70% of previous earnings up to a ceiling until the child’s second birthday. After that, Hungarian mothers receive a flat-rate benefit of 28,500 HUF (88 euros) per month until the child’s third birthday.
Mothers in Estonia are given 140 days of fully paid pregnancy and maternity leave, which may begin 30-70 days before the expected delivery date. Fathers in Estonia are given two weeks of paid time off to promote extra bonding with their child. After maternity leave ends, parents get an additional 435 days off to share, with compensation calculated at the average of their two earnings.