If you are about to become a parent or have little ones at home, you are probably thinking a lot about how to give your children the best possible upbringing. Developed countries around the world have vastly different philosophies and policies in regard to families; some offer incredible parental leave packages, services, medical care, and even financial allowances, while in others, raising children can be prohibitively expensive, especially in regard to child care.
U.S. News & World Report does an annual ranking of the best countries worldwide based on 65 different attributes. Just one category has to do with children, but many others play into overall quality of life and how happily you could raise your family there. In 2018, the best country to raise a family is Denmark, which bumped the previous two-time winner, Sweden, to spot number two.
We’ve taken a look at the parental leave policies and other incentives for families of the top five countries on the U.S. News & World Report list. Each of these countries also has an infrastructure that supports family togetherness in public spaces, a well developed school system, and plenty of outdoor recreation. We’ve also noted the other categories in which each country excels, so that you can choose your ideal home based on the entire culture, not just the family leave provisions.
If you’re thinking about making a move to experience better quality of life for your family, we think you’ll find that each of these countries truly values the contribution that families make to society, and understands the work that goes into raising the next generation.
In Canada, maternity benefits are called EI, and are offered to biological mothers, including surrogate mothers, who cannot work due to pregnancy or a recent birth. The maximum available is 15 weeks and is paid at the rate of 55% of regular weekly earnings. After that, both parents may participate in parental benefits in one of two ways, standard for 35 weeks at 55% salary, or extended for 61 weeks at 33% of salary.
Canada is also in the top 10 best countries for ease of doing business, support for entrepreneurs, modern amenities, quality of life, comfortable retirement, political transparency, green living, education, and gender equality.
All mothers in Finland, biological and adoptive, are eligible to apply for a program that will provide either a maternity package full of vital clothes and supplies for the baby’s first year (the Finnish Baby Box), or a tax free lump sum payment of about 140 Euros. After the birth, mothers are guaranteed 105 paid working days. Fathers are covered for 54 working days. After that, an additional 26 weeks may be split between the parents. When paid parental leave is over, one parent may choose not to go back to work, and instead receive a childcare allowance until the child is three years old.
Finland additionally features in the top 10 best countries for ease of doing business, green living, gender equality, political transparency, modern amenities, and quality of life.
Dads really count in Norway, with an egalitarian culture that believes part of empowering women in the workplace is having men step up at home in a more involved role. After every birth, both parents receive a two-week leave and may then choose to divide up 46 weeks of further parental leave paid at 100% of regular pay, or choose instead to take 56 weeks paid at 80%. To encourage men to participate actively in their baby’s first year, a special 10-week quota is reserved for them that may not be transferred to the mother; if dads don’t take the time, they lose it. However, 90% of Norwegian fathers don’t hesitate to take at least 12 weeks’ paternity leave.
Norway also breaks the top 10 best countries for ease of doing business, quality of life, green living, political transparency, support for entrepreneurs, gender equality, and modern amenities.
It’s nice to be pregnant in Sweden, where expectant mothers get free or heavily subsidized prenatal care. After the birth, the family is likely to be moved to a hotel that adjoins the hospital for a few days where they can bond in comfort while still having access to medical care and monitoring. Parental leave in Sweden is guaranteed for 480 days whenever a child is born or adopted, and you need not actually be employed to receive pay! The government additionally provides a monthly allowance for every child to help with the cost of raising him or her to the age of 16.
Sweden also features in the top 10 best countries for ease of doing business, support for entrepreneurship, cultural influence, modern amenities, quality of life, comfortable retirement, political transparency, green living, education, and gender equality.
New parents in Denmark get an astonishing 52 weeks of paid family leave. Mothers may take four weeks of leave before the birth and then 14 weeks after. The father may take two weeks along with the mother during that first 14 after the baby’s birth. After 14 weeks, there are 32 further weeks that the parents may split between themselves as desired, or even take the time together. When the child reaches school age, Denmark has an interesting philosophy on education. It actively discourages competition, instead focusing on teamwork and tasking kids who excel at something to help their peers to improve as well.
Denmark also ranks in the top 10 best countries for quality of life, gender equality, modern amenities, ease of doing business, political transparency, and green living. Talk about a family-friendly environment.
Ready to start packing? Even if you are past the point of birth and early childhood with your children, parental leave policies are a good touchstone for evaluating the overall philosophy that a country holds toward families. A place where families are respected and supported from day one is a great place to grow to adulthood.