A friend of mine who is an MD in Spain told me that paid leave is small in Spain (16 weeks, check column Total paid leave available to mothers within the table at page 3) as compared to virtually all EU countries. He thinks that 6 months would be more appropriate (from a medical perspective), but I could not find any scientific article to support this claim.

According to this article, 16 weeks seem to be the very minimum recommended period for parental leave:

(...) World Health Organization recommendations for the provision of at minimum 16 weeks of leave after childbirth to ensure optimal growth of the infant, proper bonding between mother and child, and the health of both mother and infant.

Having such a small parent leave is somewhat strange for me, as Spain has one of best healthcare systems in the world (no. 8 according to this article) and health is certainly a priority to have such a good system.

Question: Why does Spain have such a low paid leave available to mothers?

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    Why questions are always difficult but surely it's a mix of bad luck, cultural sentiments and political circumstances. - "Having such a small parent leave is somewhat strange for me..." For you, but for others (US, ...) this may seem perfectly normal. Feb 1, 2018 at 10:07
  • I think the idea that there should be a strong reason why they went with "only" 16 weeks is maybe not very well motivated. You cite research that states 16 weeks is basically enough and they still have a great health care system. Let's not argue about the validity of such research and about healthcare rankings, but that "evidence" suggests that they did everything right. The question should maybe be why other countries went with more paid leave
    – Raditz_35
    Feb 1, 2018 at 10:24
  • @Raditz_35 - yes, that would certainly be a more interesting question, but I think it is too broad for SE network.
    – Alexei
    Feb 1, 2018 at 10:35
  • @Trilarion - yes, from US perspective, it is not strange, but in EU the period is quite short. Also, health system is very different in US from EU where most countries have a national health system.
    – Alexei
    Feb 1, 2018 at 10:36
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    And I think the payment rate is relevant, too. For example, Belgium has 32.3 weeks, but it pays a rate of 40.6% of the salary, so people in maternity leave get paid only for 13.1 weeks. And also, this lack of pay may incentivate/force people to not use all of the time they are entitled to, specially is money is short (do you know how expensive diapers are?)
    – SJuan76
    Feb 1, 2018 at 11:51

1 Answer 1


Small wouldn't be the word I would have used. It's actually the same as countries such Netherlands, France, or Austria, and it's superior to Germany, Switzerland or Belgium.

In any case this has been in debate for years, usually opposed by the People's Party (PP) with the argument that the current Spanish Financial Crisis does not allow an extension. In a 2016 article of El Pais (English version) you can read (Note: CEOE is the Confederation of Employers and Industries of Spain):

According to the figures, between January 2011 and December 2014, Spain saved more than €500 million in maternity and paternity leave as a result of the falling birth rate, spending just €1.6 billion in 2014.


The PP accuses its rivals of making promises it cannot keep. The CEOE business confederation is also opposed to extending paternity leave, saying it will hit businesses hard. “Often, businesses have to pay social security while somebody is absent, and it creates organizational problems because that man has to be replaced temporarily,” says Jordi García Viña, the CEOE’s labor relations director.

Spain has had a drop of almost 13% in birth rate since 2008:

Spain is ageing in step with the crisis. The collapse of the job market, wage cuts and lower expectations for future prosperity are all causing birth rates to dwindle. Since 2008, the year when the impact of the recession began to be felt, the number of births has fallen nearly 13 percent, according to data released last week by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

For that reason, quite recently, the dimension of the problem has prompted PP and Ciudadanos (en: Citizens) to agree in extending the parental leave:

Ciudadanos ha acordado con el PP, en el marco de las negociaciones de los Presupuestos Generales del Estado (PGE) para el próximo año, ampliar una semana más, hasta sumar cinco, los permisos de paternidad a partir de enero de 2018.

My Spanish isn't great but it seems to say that PP and Citizens have agreed in extending the Paternity Leave by one week starting January 2018 (so things should be changing as we speak).

NOTE: SJuan76 called my attention to the fact that the extension is indeed exclusive to paternity leave as opposed to maternity leave or the gender parity term parental leave. As so, as we speak, the OP number for 16 week of maternal leave is still very much in place.

  • 1
    I have fixed the link to the pdf containing a detailed overview of parental leave (this one. According to this source, total paid leave available to mothers is one of the smallest within EU. Anyway, a great detailed answer (+1).
    – Alexei
    Feb 1, 2018 at 11:03
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    The last text in Spanish talks about paternity leave (for the father), and that the budget negotiations for 2018 increased that leave from four to five weeks. But the approval of the budget has been delayed, so AFAIK the paternity leave is still of four weeks (the maternity leave is different concept and lasts 16 weeks).
    – SJuan76
    Feb 1, 2018 at 11:23
  • Ups. Thanks @SJuan76 I'll edit the answer in a minute. I should have read it more carefully. Even though using the word paternity, when I was writing the answer I was actually assuming they were referring to all types of parental leave.
    – armatita
    Feb 1, 2018 at 11:35
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    (+1) TL;DR Money. As a fact, paternity leave is 4 weeks since January 2017. My son was born in November 2016 and I only got 2 weeks.
    – Rekesoft
    Feb 1, 2018 at 14:04
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    @patapouf_ai I did not say otherwise, neither was my intention to be misleading. My point was that Spain policy on Maternity leave is not that uncommon. By no means I was trying to compare the systems for any of those countries beyond the value for number of weeks for Maternity leave.
    – armatita
    Feb 5, 2018 at 8:57

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