Press Releases

2004 Releases

Research Finds U.S. Lags Far Behind Scores of Countries Globally in Guaranteeing Working Conditions that Support Working Families

For immediate release: June 16, 2004 

Boston, MA— A new report of research on 168 countries led by Jody Heymann, Associate Professor of Society, Health and Human Development at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), finds that working conditions in the United States that support working families, lag far behind scores of other countries. The report, The Work, Family and Equity Index: Where Does the United States Stand Globally? is being released today in Washington DC.

Among the report’s findings:

  • More than 160 countries offer guaranteed paid leave to women in connection with childbirth. The U.S. does not.
  • The only other industrialized country which does not have paid maternity or parental leave for women, Australia, guarantees a full year of unpaid leave to all women in the country. The Family Medical Leave Act in the U.S. provides only 12 weeks of unpaid leave to approximately half of mothers and nothing for the remainder.
  • 45 countries ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid paternity leave. The U.S. does not guarantee either.
  • At least 96 countries around the world in all geographic regions and at all economic levels provide for paid annual leave. The U.S. does not ensure paid annual leave.
  • 76 countries guarantee working mothers the right to breastfeed. The U.S. does not protect the ability of working mothers to breastfeed, despite its importance to the health of baby and mother alike.
  • 139 countries mandate paid sick leave. 117 of these countries ensure at least one week. The U.S. does not guarantee even one day leave for illness.

“The United States trails enormously far behind the rest of the world when it comes to legislation to protect the health and welfare of working families. Scores of countries guarantee paid leave for new mothers and fathers, the opportunity to breastfeed, sick leave, and some minimum annual leave that can be spent with children, elderly parents or other family members. The United States guarantees none of these to working Americans or their families.” Jody Heymann explained, “This is only the beginning of the list. Protections against extreme work hours or weeks with no breaks are among the other areas where the US lags. Moreover, we have fallen behind when it comes to services for pre-school and school age children, as well as in working conditions. The costs are enormous to the health and welfare of children, the disabled and elderly, and the working adults who care for them.”

“The Work, Family and Equity Index lays bare just how far behind the U.S. is when it comes to the most basic work and family issues, like paid parental leave," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "Working families are deeply concerned about how to balance work and home, and this thorough study should raise alarm bells from coast to coast about how far our nation needs to come to meet their needs."

The full report is available at

The research was conducted with support from the Ford Foundation.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752