McGill study: U.S. protections for working families worst of all affluent countries

Published: 1 February 2007

Research finds U.S. lags in leave, sick days and other worker protections

U.S. policies to ensure decent working conditions for families still lag dramatically behind those of all high-income countries and many middle- and low-income countries, according to a study released in Washington by McGill University's Institute for Health and Social Policy (IHSP).

Using updated and expanded data from her 2004 Harvard study, IHSP Director Dr. Jody Heymann, finds in The 2007 Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up? that:

  • Out of 173 countries studied, 168 guarantee paid maternal leave, with 98 of these countries offering 14 or more weeks of paid leave. The U.S. provides no paid leave for mothers. Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea are the only other countries studied that do not guarantee leave with income to mothers.
  • Sixty-five countries grant fathers either paid paternity leave or paid parental leave, with 31 of these countries offering 14 or more weeks of paid leave. The U.S. guarantees fathers neither paid paternity nor paid parental leave.
  • At least 107 countries protect working women's right to breastfeed and the breaks are paid in at least 73 of these countries. The U.S. does not guarantee the right to breastfeed, even though breastfeeding is demonstrated to reduce infant mortality one-and-a-half to five-fold.
  • At least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing a week or more annually. The U.S. provides unpaid leave only for serious illnesses through the Family & Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers, and has no federal law providing for paid sick days.
  • One hundred and thirty-seven countries require employers to provide paid annual leave. The U.S. does not.
  • At least 134 countries have laws that fix the maximum length of the work week. The U.S. does not have a maximum work week length or a limit on mandatory overtime per week.
  • At least 126 countries mandate that employers provide a day of rest each week so workers are not required to go for long periods without a day off. The U.S. does not.

"More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of," said Dr. Heymann, the study's lead author, founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families and Director of the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy.

"The U.S. has been a proud leader in adopting laws that provide for equal opportunity in the workplace, but our work/family protections are among the worst. It's time for change."

Dr. Heymann was speaking in Washington, where she's presenting the study's findings to U.S. policy makers, researchers and media.

The 2007 Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up? is available online at

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