Having some time away from work is really important when you welcome a newborn child into the world, for both mums and dads.
In the UK, we're moving on from times where mums had deal with all the childcare on their own. More new dads are opting to make use of their paternity leave to spend quality time with their newborn - it’s really important for bonding and setting the foundation for a healthy relationship with their child and partner. There's still a way to go - only a third of eligible fathers take any paternity leave at all. Shocking, but that figure is thankfully trending downwards.
Unfortunately many countries still offer limited options; it's just not as much of a priority as it could (and should) be in some places. The USA for example - the biggest economy in the world - doesn't guarantee fathers any paternity leave at all.
So, there's a big variety in parental leave policies around the world. More and more dads (and their supporters) are advocating for paid paternity leave - are we beginning to see things even out a bit? Let's have a look at paternity leave in other countries around the world.
The best paternity leave allowance around the world
Here's a comparison table showing the number of days new fathers can take as leave after the birth of a child.
As far as we can tell, this data is mostly accurate as of 2023. We can’t guarantee these 100% because figures are reported inconsistently and laws change regularly. For example, there’s only one source for the South Korea figure and it’s a Vice article. And some countries share the allocation between new parents.
Also, there are often different durations for paid time off and unpaid leave. For example, Germany offers 12 months paid leave with the option of an additional 24 months unpaid. In the table below we’ve tried to include paid leave figures only.
Regardless, comparing them makes for an interesting glimpse into different attitudes around the world.
|Paternity leave allowance
Firstly, let’s talk about South Korea and Japan. They seem to blow other countries out the water, but the data doesn’t tell the full story.
South Korea seems to have the most generous parental leave by far, but this policy was only announced in early 2023, and it was a proposal that’s yet to be voted on by parliament.
It’s also technically shared parental leave, so any portion of it can be taken by the mother instead. So it’s unlikely that many fathers will take the entirety of the 1.5 year allowance.
Japan is a different case; while new dads can take up to a year of paternity leave, it’s rare that they actually use it due to cultural pressures in the workplace. It’s similar to the challenge of unlimited leave – guilt and social stigma prevents people using it effectively.
Both of these countries are said to have introduced these entitlements due to their dangerously low birth rates, and they want to encourage more couples to start a family.
The Nordic countries are also setting great examples, with Norway, Sweden and Iceland offering a particularly generous allowance of paid parental leave. Denmark’s works on a shared model, so the 168 days we’ve calculated is the maximum a dad could take, but it’d be taken instead of the mother.
Canada also has a generous policy, but it’s a complicated arrangement shared between the parents, so it didn’t really fit into our table.
Paternity leave is often seen as less important than maternity leave, so it’s not always represented well even in progressive economies. But times are clearly changing, and so are parental leave laws.
An issue of equality
New mothers are offered some kind of parental leave in almost all of the world's 195 countries, but leave is offered to fathers in around half.
Gender equality is a major issue around the world today, and although it usually refers to issues where women aren't treated fairly, it's relevant in this case too. Paternity leave isn't just about giving dads a break from work: it's about them being at home to help mum take care of the newborn.
Jody Heymann, the World Policy Analysis Center founder, says that if gender equality is to be realised at home and at work, men must be given "an equal chance to be there with their newborn babies". The UK, along with various other European nations, has the option for mothers and fathers to share their leave, enabling fathers to spend more time at home with their new baby if they share the leave with mum.
Variations around the world
Emerging economies like India are working on improving their paternity leave options, and developing nations like Gambia and Rwanda have been introducing it in some form since 2010. With this in mind, the lack of options for paternity (and even maternity) leave in the USA is really quite startling.
The U.S. is home to 4 million newborns, yet it stands alongside Suriname, Papua New Guinea and some Pacific Island states in not having an established law guaranteeing parental leave for either parent. That said, many US states are introducing paid leave policies, citing a recognition of the importance of a father's role in his baby's life.
More and more Western companies are realising the importance of offering paid paternity leave to the wellbeing and loyalty of their employees, so you'll likely see the more progressive companies offering more than the bare minimum.
It's not always about the economy
Paid paternity leave is offered in countries of all economic status.
Interestingly, in nations like Brazil, with a high infant population and upper-middle average income, or the Democratic Republic of Congo, with low average income, less than 3 weeks of paid paternity leave is offered. Meanwhile, low-income Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia offer a minimum of 14 weeks paid paternity leave. The general trend is that nations with higher GDP provide more generously, but it's not always the case.
Momentum is growing in favour of family-friendly policies in the developing world, and a number of African nations have introduced paid paternity leave over the last 10 years. Mauritius introduced 1 week in 2008, Rwanda introduced 4 days in 2010, and Gambia has introduced 14 days.
It goes without saying that your business will be much more attractive to new recruits with a generous paternity leave option. If you're a business owner, it's worth considering whether you're offering enough.
Could you encourage new dads to take more leave? Could you offer full pay paternity leave above the government minimum? If so, you're likely to see happier families, better wellbeing, and lower staff turnover. Surely it's worth trying.