For The First Time In American History, A Majority Of Moms Get Paid Maternity Leave

Good news for working mothers, both present and future: The percentage of women able to take paid maternity leave from their jobs has been steadily, if slowly, increasing over the last several decades, according to numbers released today by the Census Bureau. This is the first time in American history that a majority of first-time mothers have received paid leave.

According to the new data, a little more than half of mothers who had their first child between 2006 and 2008 took some form of paid leave. In the early 1980s, only 37.3% of first-time working mothers received paid leave. That represents progress.[tagbox tag="maternity leave"]

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, requires most employers to offer 12 weeks minimum of unpaid leave. But paid leave is up to employers — it’s a benefit, not a requirement. The more than half of mother who took paid leave relied on standard maternity leave benefits, but also on paid sick leave or vacation benefits. Meanwhile, 42% of moms took unpaid leave. There’s some overlap with those numbers, since some women took both paid and unpaid leave.

While today’s news is cause to celebrate, it’s worth remembering that American law on family leave is distinctly out of step with the rest of the world. According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, the only countries in the world that don’t require some kind of paid maternity leave are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.

Photo: Anatoliy Samara /

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