A global guilt trip in honor of Mother's Day.
- By Joshua E. KeatingJoshua E. Keating is an associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Save the Children has released its annual State of the World’s Mothers report and once again it’s not a particularly impressive showing for the world’s wealthiest country. The United States comes in 25th place, just behind the dictatorship of Belarus, thanks to alarming rates of pregnancy-related deaths and the low number of children enrolled in preschools.
Here’s a look at how moms in some of the top 24 live.
Save the Children ranking: 1
Norway — a perennial chart-topper on global well-being lists — is extraordinarily generous to new parents. After the birth of a child, both parents are entitled to two weeks of paid leave. After that, they have the option of either another 46 weeks off at full pay or 56 weeks at 80 percent of normal wages — to be divided between the parents. To make sure that dad pitches in, the government requires that at least 10 of the weeks be taken by the father. Before the law was passed, only 3 percent of Norwegian fathers took any paternity leave. Now, 90 percent take at least 12 weeks, and it’s not unusual for even government ministers to take several months off to help during a child’s first year.
The government even gives a special grant to families who choose to have one parent stay home with a child until age two. Should they choose to go back to work, a 37.5-hour workweek and five weeks of guaranteed vacation take a bit of the pressure out of being a working mom. Norway’s fertility rates have diminished somewhat in recent years but are still among the highest in Europe.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Save the Children ranking: 2
The second-best country for mothers is similarly generous when it comes to maternity leave. Both parents have the right to three months of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, plus an additional three months to be divided between the parents. Unemployed parents can qualify for special welfare payments as well. Icelandic mothers are also entitled to free prenatal care, including 10 doctor’s visits, ultrasounds, care from midwives or doctors, and home visits from nurses after the birth. The government also provides quarterly child benefits based on family size.
Because of these policies, Iceland has pulled off the feat of having both the highest rate of women’s participation in the workforce — 82.6 percent — and one of Europe’s highest fertility rates. The World Economic Forum has consistently ranked Iceland as the world’s top country for gender equality. Under Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, half the country’s legislature and four of its 10 cabinet members are women.
The only downside to being a mom in Iceland? You have to choose your child’s name from a government-approved list. Hope you like Haldor and Kaja.
OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Save the children ranking: 4
Kiwi moms are entitled to free publicly funded maternity services or can opt to pay for private care. The maternity leave wouldn’t impress a Norwegian mother, but is still pretty generous: 14 weeks of paid leave for mothers, plus a protected 52-weeks of unpaid leave. Spouses and partners are entitled to 42 days of leave.
One unique feature of motherhood in New Zealand is the Royal New Zealand Plunket Society, a private — though largely government-funded — organization that has provided free nursing and instructional services to new mothers since 1907. The “Plunket nurse” has been an icon of Kiwi society for over a century.
One black mark on the country’s record is the health of Maori mothers, who suffer far higher rates of maternal death and stillbirths than mothers of European descent.
Sandra Teddy/Getty Images
Save the children ranking: 14
Readers in the United States may be eagerly devouring books on how the French raise their children or why French women don’t get fat, but more interesting may be how France treats its mothers. French women are entitled to 16 weeks of total paid maternity leave, beginning six weeks before the expected birth. After that, parents have the option of three years of protected unpaid leave. Day care is subsidized, and families with young children are entitled to special government benefits. Interestingly, the French system encourages large families by increasing benefits substantially with the birth of a third child.
France’s health-care system — rated best in the world by the World Health Organization — is also extremely generous for new mothers, going beyond free doctor’s visits to cover home visits from registered nurses. (Despite what Michael Moore might tell you, these nurses generally won’t do your laundry.) The level of postnatal care the French state provides can also sometimes get surprisingly intimate.
JEAN-PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images
Save the children ranking: 22
It’s not only rich countries that put the United States to shame when it comes to caring for mothers. Hungary, which is one of the poorest EU countries and has been devastated by the European financial crisis, has lower rates of both maternal and infant mortality than America, according to Save the Children’s 2012 report. (It boasts the lowest maternal mortality rate in Central and Eastern Europe.) Prenatal care is provided free, though it’s substantially better if you pay for it.
In a bid to boost the country’s plummeting birth rates, the government recently extended unpaid maternity leave to three years, on top of 24 weeks of paid leave. As part of the same maternity push, the government last year even considered giving extra votes in elections to women with children.
DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is assistant managing editor for online at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor's degree from U.C. Berkeley, and master's degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.| Letters |