Donald Trump’s Maternity Leave Proposal Keeps the U.S. in Dead Last Compared to its Peers

Photograph by JASON CONNOLLY AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump added a new layer of unorthodoxy to his campaign on Tuesday when he announced his plan for paid family leave, the centerpiece of which is six weeks paid maternity leave for all mothers.

In advocating for paid maternity leave, Trump is breaking from the traditional stance of the Republican party in a radical way. The GOP has long held that requiring employers to guarantee paid time off for new moms or promising it through a government program is in conflict with the party’s insistence on limiting Washington’s reach. Trump flouted that pillar of his party Tuesday, stating that leaders must empathize with laid-off workers and struggling mothers on issues related to child care.

While Trump’s proposal is a welcome departure from the Republican party’s long-held resistance to paid maternity leave and an improvement over the U.S.’s piddly policy that currently gives mothers zero weeks of paid time off, his grand plan doesn’t do much to move the needle on providing new moms with more support—especially when compared to maternity leave policies abroad.

Subscribe to The World’s Most Powerful Women, Fortune’s daily must-read for global businesswomen.

When measured against the lengths of policies in other OECD countries, his proposed six weeks paid leave would move the United States from dead last to….tied for last place with Portugal and Australia. Hillary Clinton’s proposal for 12 weeks of paid maternity leave, meanwhile, doesn’t fare much better against America’s peers; it would move the U.S. to tied for third-worst alongside Mexico.


Maternity leave is, in many instances, not paid at a woman’s full weekly rate. Of the 34 OECD countries, 12 nations guarantee women 100% of their average pay rate while on leave, but in the rest, women get a portion of what they’d normally earn. In the United Kingdom, for instance, women receive an average of 31.3% of their typical pay over the course of their 39 weeks of paid leave. In Canada that average rate is 48.3%; in Japan, it’s 67%.

Clinton has said that, under her plan, workers would receive at least 67% their current rate while taking time off.

Trump, meanwhile, hasn’t specified what rate of their full pay women would receive, and his campaign did not reply to requests for more clarity on this point. What he has said is that women’s maternity leave pay would consist of unemployment benefits, which are usually reserved for Americans who are out of work, and he’s pegged the average weekly payout at $300. In the second quarter of 2016, the median weekly earnings for female full-time wage and salary workers was $744. Doing some back-of-the-envelope math (and remembering that average weekly earnings—if we had them—would likely be higher than median) we can estimate Trump’s average pay rate at about 40%. That estimate lands near the lower end of the OECD spectrum, while Clinton’s is closer to the middle of the pack.


By multiplying the total weeks of paid maternity by the average pay rate during that period, these policies can be measured in another way—by the full-rate equivalent of paid maternity leave. In other words, if each country’s policy were translated into fully-paid time off, how much time would the would the women get?Considered this way, Trump’s proposal would keep the U.S. in last place and Clinton’s would land the U.S. at fifth-worst.


American women can be forgiven for not being floored by these prospects. Yet there are more problems with the plan Trump announced Tuesday. In unveiling his ideas, Trump misleadingly said Hilary Clinton had no child care plan of her own and that she “never will.” (In fact, Clinton introduced her plan more than a year ago and it calls for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for a newborn or sick family member.)

There are shortcomings in Trump’s plan for funding his program. He says he’ll pay for it by eliminating fraud in unemployment insurance, an approach Vox referred to as “absurd,” since the $3 billion the U.S. loses every year to abuse of its unemployment insurance program is about a third of what would be needed to cover Trump’s proposed safety net. His plan also left out new fathers by not guaranteeing them any paid time off and by not allowing a mother’s benefits to be transferred to a dad.

Neither candidate’s maternity leave policies are earth-shattering, and they don’t do much to repair the U.S.’s international reputation for providing new moms with scant benefits. That’s especially notable for the Trump campaign, since it’s based on what the candidate sees as the need to rebuild the United States into a global powerhouse, a leader on the world stage. But the specifics of his maternity leave policy don’t put the U.S. out front of its peers. Indeed, by several metrics, his plan leaves the U.S. trailing other nations—and, by some measurements, dead last.

Data editor Stacy Jones contributed to this article.

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.

Read More

LeadershipBroadsheetDiversity and InclusionCareersVenture Capital