Norway’s parental leave policy could help close the gender pay gap in the USA

On the EDGE: An opinion column about current issues in Norway and the United States

Parental leave norway

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Babies aren’t very good employees, so moms are forced to choose between working and staying at home with their kids, then being penalized for it when they re-enter the workforce.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

From the gender equality viewpoint, life in the USA can be economically dismal. Within the OECD, the intergovernmental economic forum of 37 mostly rich countries, women’s average wages are 85 percent of those of men. In the USA, motherhood worsens that imbalance. In the OECD report The Pursuit of Gender Equality (Further reading), there’s a bar chart entitled “Graph 16.1—All OECD countries but one offer paid maternity leave and most provide paid paternity leave and/or paid parental leave.” That one country offering no paid leave is the USA. American newspapers, for example The Washington Post this past February (Further reading), decry that distinction.

Aside from being socially ignominious, the lack of parental leave economically disadvantages society. The woman who forsakes the workplace to have children may be obliged to take a less lucrative job upon returning to the labor force. The upshot then is a woman overqualified for her job. For the country and its working mothers as a whole, this leads to a wasteful underuse of women’s skills.

The first step toward correcting the imbalance is for the USA to enact parental leave. Fortunately, Norway’s parental leave scheme is a proven template for that. Leave is one of the responsibilities of the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration, known as NAV, an acronym for its name in 2006 when Norway’s labor and welfare services were merged into Nye Arbeids og Velferdsetaten (New Labor and Welfare Agency).

The four baseline NAV documents on parental leave are available in English.

Information about NAV’s services and benefits is an overview of NAV services, benefits, and pensions:

Family related benefits is a succinct overview of NAV entitlements and duties:

Membership of the National Insurance Scheme sets forth the basic rules for eligibility for NAV services available to citizens and residents of Norway and of EU and EEA countries with which Norway has reciprocal agreements:

Parental benefit sets forth the basic requirements for parental benefits. The recipient(s) must have been employed in Norway for six of the 10 months before benefit payment starts and must have an annual income of at least half the National Insurance basic amount, now NOK 96,883. Both adoptions and births qualify for benefits. The key word is “parental,” as some leave is specified as paternal. The amount(s) paid are keyed to the average of the annual incomes reported on the previous three years’ tax returns:

Further reading:

The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD, Oct. 4, 2017:

“The world’s richest countries guarantee mothers more than a year of paid maternity leave. The U.S. guarantees them nothing,” by Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, Feb. 5, 2018:

This article originally appeared in the July 13, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.