Press Statement
U.S. Protections for Working Families Worst of All Affluent Countries

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 by Harvard and McGill Universities today using updated and expanded data from the 2004 Work, Family, and Equity Index. The 2007 Work, Family, and Equity Index: How Does the U.S. Measure Up? finds:

  • 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 deny leave with income to mothers.
  • 65 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 40 percent of private sector workers, and has no federal law providing for paid sick days.
  • 137 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 the study’s lead author, Dr. Jody Heymann, 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.”

“This study should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and the Administration,” added National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness. “We need to expand the Family & Medical Leave Act, adopt paid leave nationwide, and pass the Healthy Families Act. This is a powerful and important study, and we intend to share it with lawmakers at the federal and state levels.”

Ness said the U.S. Department of Labor recently issued a Request for Information on the Family & Medical Leave Act which may result in rollbacks to the law which has allowed more than 50 million Americans to take job-protected unpaid leave. The Healthy Families Act would require all U.S. employers with at least 15 employees to provide seven paid sick days per year; it was introduced in the last Congress and is likely to be reintroduced next month,.

The Work, Family, and Equity Index is part of the Project on Global Working Families, the first program devoted to understanding and improving the relationship between working conditions around the world and family health and well-being. According to the Index, the U.S. is well-situated among countries that ensure the right to work for all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of gender, age or disability. U.S. policy also ranks well in guaranteed rights to attend school, to work, and to receive a paid premium for overtime. However, U.S. poor working parents are the group most affected by the lack of other basic protections enjoyed in most other countries.

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

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About McGill University
Founded in 1821, McGill University is Canada’s leading research-intensive university. McGill has 21 faculties and professional schools, offering more than 300 programs from the undergraduate to the doctoral level. There are approximately 23,000 undergraduate students and 7,000 graduate students at McGill’s two campuses in Montreal, Canada. McGill is a member of the American Association of Universities. More information is available at

About Harvard School of Public Health Harvard School of Public Health is dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. More than 300 faculty members are engaged in teaching and training the 900-plus student body in a broad spectrum of disciplines crucial to the health and well being of individuals and populations around the world. Programs and projects range from the molecular biology of AIDS vaccines to the epidemiology of cancer; from risk analysis to violence prevention; from maternal and children’s health to quality of care measurement; from health care management to international health and human rights. For more information on the school visit:

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About the National Partnership for Women & Families

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, reproductive health and rights, access to quality, affordable health care and policies that help all people meet the dual demands of work and family.

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