According to this document (page 3), US is an exception when it comes to total paid leave related to maternity (paid maternity leave + paid parental and home care leave available to mothers). The OECD countries average is about one year (55.2 weeks).

According to Wikipedia, there seem to be some benefits associated with paid maternity leave:

A Harvard report cited research showing paid maternity leave “facilitates breastfeeding and reduces risk of infection”, but is not associated with changes in immunization rate. This research also found that countries with parental leave had lower infant mortality rates. Returning to work within 12 weeks was also associated with less regular medical checkups. Data from 16 European countries during the period 1969-1994 revealed that the decrease of infant mortality rates varied based on length of leave. A 10-week leave was associated with a 1-2% decrease; a 20-week leave with 2-4%; and 30 weeks with 7-9%.[44] The United States, which does not have a paid parental leave law, ranked 56th in the world in 2014 in terms of infant mortality rates, with 6.17 deaths per every 1,000 children born.

Question: Why is there no paid maternity leave in United States? (as opposed to the the vast majority of developed countries)

  • 47
    I wonder if we need a canonical question explaining the role of the US Federal government for those unfamiliar with how the US Federal-State dichotomy works. I feel like there are a lot of questions like these that mistake the US Federal government as the only government in the US. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 14:13
  • 10
    @IllusiveBrian - I think such a question makes sense, as many of the non-US users might not be familiar with this.
    – Alexei
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 14:20
  • 3
    Are you asking for an objective reason (with a rather pedestrian answer of "because there's not enough political support to get enough votes") or for subjective reason ("why isn't there enough support")
    – user4012
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 14:38
  • 19
    The question is bizarre; government programs do not exist by default and then must be eliminated for reasons. There's no federal program like that because no President ever signed that bill into law. Why not? Because no President was ever presented such a bill. Why not? Because the House and Senate never passed such a bill. Why not? We could keep on asking why nots forever. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:57
  • 14
    Your Harvard report is bogus. There are 2 reasons why the USA appears to have higher mortality rates. The USA counts ALL babies born as being born, unlike other countries. This a major factor. More subtle is that infant mortality rates differ by race. The USA has a large amount of diversity that other countries don't. Additionally, the suggestion that paid maternity leave will change things is also bogus. The people that would get this benefit are the middle-class and up. They don't have an infant mortality problem, it is the other end of the income spectrum where the problem exists.
    – Dunk
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 21:52

4 Answers 4


There are states which have paid maternity leave laws [1], and many private employers do offer paid maternity leave. The question of why the United States does not have a universal paid maternity leave is complicated, as most political discussion are.

A lot of it boils down to individual freedoms vs federal responsibility. In order for the federal government to pass a new law that restricts individual (including private business) rights, it generally needs to be shown that doing so fulfills a role of the federal government and that it does so using the least restrictive means.

Additionally, enough members of congress have to be convinced that it is a necessary bill. This is difficult. There is a lot of disagreement between the amount of government involvement needed.

For some additional information, consider H.R. 1022 - 115th Congress. This bill is only for federal employees, so the constitutional issue is reduced. But we still see extreme partisanship with only one Republican co-sponsor, even though there are a total of 75 co-sponsors. This partisanship makes it even more difficult for a bill to make it into law.

Least Restrictive Means

There seems to be an issue with the concept of "least restrictive means." The fifth amendment states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law, while the 10th says that any power not delegated to the federal government is reserved first to the people and then the states. A federal provision which mandates PTO of any kind comes into conflict with those provisions. We therefore have a conflict between law and constitution. Therefore a law which mandates paid maternity leave must (1) satisfy some interest of the federal government, as laid out by the constitution and (2) must do as little to conflict with the 5th and 10th amendments as possible.

  • 7
    So, in order to have a more relevant comparison, OECD should have not included the United States as a whole, but each individual US State which may regulate maternity leave. Does this make sense?
    – Alexei
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 14:17
  • 4
    Alexei, the question was simply about why the United States did not have paid maternity leave. I answered that question. And in some ways the US is more comparable to the EU than a single member nation of it. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:14
  • 6
    As to constitutionality, I was trying to compare with the federal minimum wage. The case usually cited seems to be West Coast Hotel, and they didn't seem to apply your "least restrictive means" standard. But whatever the relevant standard is, if a minimum wage passes it, it's hard to see how mandatory maternity leave would fail. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 22:57
  • 1
    @NateEldredge: In fact, the constitutionality of the FLSA was challenged when it was originally passed. The Supreme Court found it constitutional, as an implementation of the interstate commerce clause, so it probably only applies to companies engaged in interstate commerce (but most states set state minimum wages equal to or higher than the federal minimum wage). Mandatory maternity leave would probably be similar--federally, it could only apply to companies engaged in interstate commerce. Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 0:00
  • 1
    Another relevant part of the constitution is: I.10/1 "No state shall ... pass any ... Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts." So, if a contract says "no maternity leave will be granted", and a state says: "you must grant maternity leave", that impairs the obligation of that contract. For federal law, it can only really be passed under the interstate commerce clause, which means it would only apply to interstate commerce. Commented Nov 8, 2017 at 0:15

The group who bears the cost of paying for extended maternity leave is either corporations or members of the upper class, through taxation or loss of productive work time. The group that bears the cost of shorter maternity leave is recovering mothers and young babies. Since corporations and the upper class effectively set policy in the United States, the cost must be born by recovering mothers and young babies. That's just the way the country is run.

  • 3
    +1 in countries (and in some US states) where working parents had a significant say in policy during the 20th century, for example through trades unions and social democratic parties (among others) a share of the burden moved towards employers.
    – Qsigma
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 16:30
  • 31
    No, corporations pass the cost on with lower wages. The group that bear the cost is workers without children, who receive lower wages without the compensation. Your assertion that corporations and upper class have sole control over legislation is absurd. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 18:18
  • 2
    @Acccumulation Thats why you also have a higher minimum wage and strong labor unions for as many professions as possible - to prevent employers from passing the cost on.
    – Magisch
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:20
  • 14
    @Magisch: You can't prevent employers from passing on costs. If they don't, they will be operating at a loss, and will eventually go bankrupt. And if they do pass on enough of the costs, competitors in lower cost areas can undercut their prices and so drive them out of business. E.g. China.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:34
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 15:26

Paid Maternity leave is offered by some private businesses, as a contractual incentive when hiring workers. Paid maternity leave is not required by the Federal Government, because the Federal Government does not have the authority to interfere in the private employment contracts between individuals. Yes, this includes private businesses, but not in the "businesses are people too" sense.

The power to interfere in private contracts is not one of the enumerated powers of the Federal government you'll find listed in the Constitution. From there, the tenth amendment further curtails excesses by the Federal government, while giving the state government leeway.

Now, there is a willingness by legislators at the Federal level to enforce a paid leave requirement onto private businesses. However, at current they lack the sufficient political or emotional capital to enact such a populist measure.

  • 23
    In reality, the federal government has the authority to do what it wants (in this area), or else there wouldn't be federal laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, workers comp, etc, as they can all be seen as "interfering in private employment contracts". Your last sentence regarding the lack of political or emotional capital is a more realistic assessment IMO.
    – Geobits
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 16:08
  • 6
    In justifying your criticism, please highlight where the Federal government has the Constitutional authority for laws regarding minimum wage, overtime, workers comp, etc. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 16:22
  • 7
    @Geobits The existence of legislative/executive overreach beyond Constitutional authority does not equate to having authority. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 16:42
  • 16
    In the case of the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (probably the most directly related and/or similar law), the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress indeed has that authority. The authority you claim doesn't exist does, in fact, exist, by precedent.
    – Geobits
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 17:07
  • 10
    You are entitled to your opinion as to the constitutionality of this and related measures in employment law (minimum wage, etc), but I think that for this answer to be useful, it really ought to disclose that courts have not agreed with the principles you assert here. Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 23:01

To add to @DrunkCynic 's answer, people in the United States value personal responsibility. If a mother/father wish to have leave of absence from work, it is expected that they save the necessary amount of vacation days they wish to take. This keeps in line with earning something rather than it being given (forced) without merit and planning.

  • 34
    So ALL people in the U.S. value personal responsibility to the point that they'd rather spend their vacations changing diapers than going sightseeing or visiting far away family? And people in other countries don't value personal responsibility? Even if that were true, saving vacation/PTO time for extended parental leave does not guarantee that your employer will let you use it that way (says someone who saved 6 weeks of vacation time to use as parental leave, but then was told that such a lengthy break was too long). Oh, and this is a cultural explanation, not a political one.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:58
  • 8
    @GreenMatt I think you sort of missed the point there. It's not that people would rather spend their vacations one way or another, it's that people would rather earn their own maternity leave, than have someone else pay for it (and at some point, pay for someone else's). The problem with the latter is that some people choose not to have children, but they have to pay to have other people's children anyway. Also I don't think at any point this answer claimed that ALL people think this way. When you add false inferences like this you end up with a straw man argument.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 18:30
  • 10
    @JBentley "The problem with the latter is that some people choose not to have children, but they have to pay to have other people's children anyway" ...But that's how taxes work!
    – Sebastianb
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:21
  • 9
    @Sebastianb Precisely, so in a general sense this question / answer is a specific case (at least in terms of political leanings) of "why does the US have lower taxes than other countries?" Political philosophies which place more emphasis on individualism (of which the USA arguably leans more towards than say, Europe) will tend to have reduced social programmes such as maternity leave than those which don't.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:27
  • 9
    @jamesqf because B doesn't use public transportation and A does, and B pays the taxes that are used to maintain such transportation and roads. Because C went to community college and is a productive member of the society, and it was paid with taxes from A and B (and C now pays taxes that help public trasportation (A) and PML (B) ), etc. there's something good in everyone paying to the betterment of the society.
    – Sebastianb
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 19:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .