For more than 10 years, the non-profit organization Save the Children has released an annual list of the best places to be a mother, appropriately called the Mothers' Index. Analyzing factors such as gender equity, prenatal and postpartum care, and infant and maternal mortality rates, the Mothers' Index ranks countries around the world according to how well government and social institutions provide for the unique needs of moms and their children [source: Save the Children].
Perhaps surprisingly, the United States typically doesn't perform very well on this list. In 2011, for instance, the nation snagged only the 31st slot. One of the primary reasons Save the Children cited for not giving the U.S. higher placement is the country's nonexistent paid maternity leave policy [source: Save the Children]. That's right: Whereas about 178 countries have instituted national policies guaranteeing paid time off for new mothers, the U.S. is the only industrialized country without one [source: Crary]. In 1993, the U.S. government enacted the Family and Medical Care Leave Act that allows for up to 12 weeks of time off after childbirth, with a couple crucial strings attached [source: Institute for Child and Family Policy]. First, the government-protected maternity leave is unpaid, and secondly, companies with fewer than 50 employees don't have to comply [source: Crary].
That said, at least it's something. Expecting dads employed in the U.S. can anticipate no government support if they'd like to take time off when their sons or daughters arrive. Some companies have instituted paternity leave policies, but the government has remained mum. However, that certainly isn't the standard in many other places around the world -- especially in the following five father-friendly countries.
5 Father Friendliest Country: Spain
Spain welcomes new dads with a hearty abrazo, or embrace, along with four weeks of paid paternity leave [source: International Labor Organization]. Spanish parents are also entitled to roughly 300 weeks of legally sanctioned parental leave after the birth of a new baby, which is shared between a couple until their child is 3 years old [source: Ray, Gornick and Schmitt]. On top of that, Spanish parents are also legally allowed to work on a part-time basis until their children turn 8 years old, although that option doesn't compensate moms or dads for their reduced hours [source: Kamerman]. For dads, the Spanish government initially sanctioned 13 days of paid paternity leave under a gender equity law passed in 2007, but extended the benefit to a healthy four weeks, effective January 2011 [source: Evisor]. Following suit, Great Britain enacted two-week paid paternity leave in 2011, despite opposition from small businesses that fear mandated paternity leave could result in a debilitating spike in absentee employees, whom they would still be obligated to pay [source: BBC].
4 Father Friendliest Country: Finland
Although a growing number of countries have begun extending paternity or parental leave, which either parent can use, many new dads don't enjoy the benefits to their full extent. Likely because of garnished paternity leave wages, only one in 10 British dads, for example, have maxed out their time off, compared to the 90 percent of British moms who elect to take their full maternity leave [sources: Peacock , Shore]. In Finland, about one in six dads opt for paternity leave, although that proportion may grow due to an incentivizing tactic called "daddy's month." The Finnish government provides for up to 18 days of paternity leave immediately following a new birth or adoption. New fathers who take off the final two weeks that initial paternity leave, rather than going back to the office early, are eligible for an extra month of leave, or the "daddy's month " [source: Kela]. Granted, new Finnish dads won't receive 100 percent of their income while they're on leave, but a stipend that varies based on their salary.
3 Father Friendliest Country: Slovenia
In 2001, Slovenia jumped on board with paternity leave rights with its Parental Protection and Family Benefit Act, which expanded the state-sponsored parental leave that had been in place since 1986 [source: European Working Conditions Observatory]. The Eastern European nation mandates 15 days of paid paternity leave for men, along with an additional 75 unpaid days, specifically intended to get fathers more actively involved in childcare and family support on the domestic front [source: International Labor Organization]. Moreover, parents can also split up a 260-day parental leave allotment, which is unpaid -- aside from social security provisions [source: European Working Conditions Observatory]. Income and workplace pressure pose a challenge for many men, who often opt for a little more than a week of time off. For example, only 2 percent of Slovenian fathers stayed home beyond the paid 15-day window in 2003 [source: Stropnik]. Regardless, the initiative represents a European trend toward fostering more gender equitable parenting.
2 Father Friendliest Country: Sweden
Sweden is a global capital of parent-friendliness. Often hailed as one of the best places in the world for mothers, the Nordic country doesn't leave dads out of the mix, as exemplified by its 1974 decision to broaden government-protected maternity leave into a gender-blind leave policy that provides for 390 days of parental leave per couple, and allows new moms and dads to keep earning 80 percent of their salaries for the duration. In 1995, Sweden introduced paternity leave, and today, in addition to 10 paid paternity days, the government also reserves an additional two months of those 390 parental days specifically for fathers [source: International Labor Organization]. And unlike other European countries with low rates of paternity leave participation, an estimated 85 percent of Swedish dads head home to help out with baby [source: Bennhold].
The result? Career-orientated mothers suffer less employment discrimination and are taking less time off of work, allowing fathers to fill in the gap, and divorce rates have dropped in the meantime [source: Bennhold]. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving -- just like a newborn baby.
1 Father Friendliest Country: Norway
In 2011, Save the Children rated Norway as top spot on its Mother's Index, with Scandinavian neighbor Sweden following up in fourth place [source: Save the Children]. Norway's low maternal and infant mortality rates helped earned it that coveted kudos, along with its offering nearly a year of leave to new mothers, paid at a percentage of their salaries [source: Brenhouse]. Pappapermisjon, or government-protected paternity leave, also benefits dads handsomely. Fathers have the option to divvy up a total of just over a year of parental leave with their wives, paid at 80 percent of their base salary. Moreover, a whopping 10 weeks, or nearly three months, are reserved solely for their use [source: Chemin]. And since that block is nontransferable to mothers, 90 percent of Norwegian dads take advantage of their allowance [source: Chemin].
Perhaps the success of Norway's paternity policy has come from the government leading by example. In early 2011, two male cabinet members -- the justice minister and family affairs minister -- temporarily traded in their posts for diaper duty with the prime minister's public support [source: Gibbs].
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Author's Note: Introduction to Top 5 Countries for New Fathers
For years, Save the Children has published an annual Mother's Index of the best places in the world for women and children. Scandinavian countries have been ranked well routinely, thanks in large part to their generous maternity leave options that grant mothers a year or more off from work while still taking home a substantial percentage of their pay. But what about the dads? While mothers' well being is crucial to child development and outcomes, dads make a difference, too.
Come to find out, many of the more than 170 countries that offer legally protected maternity leave rights have broadened their policies to include time off for dad, too. Some countries, such as Sweden, parcel out time off specifically for mothers and fathers, along with time they transfer between each other. The United States is an outlier in this article, however, as one of the only developed nations that doesn't legally guarantee parental leave rights.
- BBC. "New paternity leave rules affecting men come into force." April 03, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12949382
- Benhold, Katrin. "In Sweden, Men Can Have It All." The New York Times. June 09, 2010. (March 16, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
- Brenhouse, Hillary. "The Best Place in the World to be a Mom: Norway and Australia." TIME. May 06, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/05/06/the-best-places-in-the-world-to-be-a-mom-norway-and-australia/
- Crary, David. "Paid Parental Leave Lacking in U.S." Associated Press. Huffington Post. Feb. 22, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/23/paid-parental-leave_n_826996.html
- European Working Conditions Observatory. "Encouraging men to play a more active role in caring." Updated Nov. 28, 2009. (March 16, 2012) http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/ewco/2008/09/SI0809019I.htm
- Evisor, Ibis. "International benefits roundup includes news from Japan, Spain." Employee Benefit News. March 01, 2010. (March 16, 2012) http://ebn.benefitnews.com/news/international-benefits-roundup-includes-news-from-japan-spain-2683018-1.html
- Gibbs, Walter. "Paternity leave hits Norway cabinet, PM thrilled." Reuters. Feb. 17, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/02/17/uk-norway-parentalleave-idUSLNE71G00Y20110217
- Institute for Child and Family Policy. "Maternity, Paternity, Parental and Family Leave Policies." Columbia University. Updated November 2004. (March 16, 2012) http://www.childpolicyintl.org/
- International Labor Organization. "Examples of leave provisions in national legislation which can be used by fathers at the time of childbirth." 2009. (March 16, 2012) http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---travail/documents/presentation/wcms_146268.pdf
- Kela. "Paternity Allowance during paternity leave." Updated Sept. 11, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://www.kela.fi/in/internet/english.nsf/NET/180708132828HS?OpenDocument
- Peacock, Louisa. "Just one in ten fathers take full paternity leave." Telegraph. July 18, 2011. (March 16, 2012) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/8643557/Just-one-in-ten-fathers-to-take-full-paternity-leave.html
- Ray, Rebecca; Gornick, Janet C.; and Schmitt, John. "Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries: Assessing Generosity and Gender Equity." Center for Economic and Policy Research. June 2009. (March 16, 2012) http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/parental_2008_09.pdf
- Save the Children. "State of the World's Mothers 2011." (March 16, 2012) http://www.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.6748295/k.BE47/State_of_the_Worlds_Mothers_2011_Statistics_and_Facts.htm
- Shore, Ben. "Maternity and paternity leave: the small print." BBC News. Oct. 20, 2010. (March 16, 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11587797
- Stropnik, Nada. "Child poverty and child well-being in the European Union." (March 16, 2012) http://www.tarki.hu/en/research/childpoverty/case_studies/childpoverty_slovenia.pdf