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More paid leave for mothers makes Norway world's most family-friendly nation

Women march in traditional Norwegian dresses (Bunads) on International Workers' Day in Oslo on 1 May. Photo: Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Norway is the most family-friendly of the richest countries in the world, a new Unicef report claims.

The report ranks 31 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries based on family-friendly policies including parental leave at full pay, and childcare services for children aged between 0-6 years old.

The study found Norway, Iceland and Sweden ranked in the top third for paid leave reserved for fathers, and the proportion of children under the age of three in childcare centres.

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But Norway offers longer paid leave to mothers than Iceland and Sweden, both in terms of actual weeks and in terms of the full-rate equivalent weeks – adjusted by the rate of payment for a parent on average earnings.

At the other end of the scale, Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland are the least family-friendly countries, ranking in the bottom third for three out of four indicators. No countries scored in the bottom third on all four indicators.

Only half of countries offer at least six months of leave for mothers at full pay, the study reveals.

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It found Estonia offers mothers the longest duration of leave at full pay, at 85 weeks, closely followed by Hungary (72 weeks) and Bulgaria (61 weeks).

Meanwhile, the US is currently the only OECD country without nationwide, statutory, paid maternity leave, paternity leave or parental leave. Some states do, however, offer paid parental leave insurance programmes to “eligible” workers.

While the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have generous leave provisions for mothers, they still ranked in the bottom third because of poor access to early childhood education.

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The report also shows that even when fathers are offered paid leave, most do not take it. In Japan, the only country that offers at least six months at full pay for fathers, only one in 20 took it in 2017.

And the Republic of Korea has the second longest paternity leave. However, dads only make up one in six of all adults who take parental leave.

Paid paternity promotes a more equitable distribution of care in the home and helps fathers to bond with their children, the report states.

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For some people looking for childcare options, affordability is the biggest barrier, with UK parents the most likely to say they can’t afford childcare.

However, in Czech Republic, Denmark and Sweden, money was an issue for fewer than one in 100 people who said that they had an unmet need for childcare.