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Most people would probably agree that female employment and maternity leave are related issues. But did you know that female employment rates are not always highest in countries where paid maternity leave is longest?

In fact, employment rates of women are relatively high in France and Sweden, yet paid maternity leave in these countries is relatively low, at 16 and 8.5 weeks respectively. Compare that with Greece, where paid maternity leave is above 43 weeks, but where the employment rate for women is just 55%, well below the OECD average of over 63%.

Does that mean cutting maternity leave would help bolster employment? Not necessarily; after all, both the UK and Ireland have relatively long paid maternity leave (52 and 42 weeks), yet their female employment rates are relatively high.

Several factors affect female employment, but one question that really matters for mothers wishing to enter–and stay–in the labour market is how to cope with toddlers and school-going children. For these mothers, the quality and availability of childcare services and pre-school education are vital. Publicspending on childcare in France, Sweden and the UK is in the 0.4-0.6% of GDP range, more than double that spent in Greece, or indeed Korea where the female employment rate is below 60%.

Visit www.oecd.org/social/family/database

©OECD Observer No 285 Q2 2011