From Diapers to Desk: Ireland’s Decreasing Parental Leave Trend Due to Employment Boom and Low Birth Rates

"Maternity and Paternity Leave Rates Drop in Ireland as Birth Rates Decrease and Employment Rises, says CSO Report"

The rate of parents taking maternity and paternity leave in Ireland has continued to decline, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The downward trend is attributed to a decrease in birth rates and a rise in employment. The CSO’s analysis of maternity and paternity benefits between 2019 and 2022 found that last year, 39,028 women availed of maternity benefit, equating to a rate of 5.5 per 100 female employees. This is a drop from 6.1 per 100 in 2020, before rising to 7.2 per 100 in 2021. The CSO says this trend since 2016 is related to a “drop in birth rates coupled with a rise in the numbers in employment”.

Paddy Furlong, a statistician with the CSO, said the peak seen in 2021 coincides with a drop in the labour force size as well as a small increase in the birth rate for that year — both of which were most likely impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The CSO said the further drop in maternity leave being taken in 2022 is “reflecting a rise in employment participation in the same period”.

Last year, there were 25,442 claims for paternity benefits, equating to 3.4 per 100 male employees. This is down from 3.9 per 100 in 2021. Mr Furlong said the proportion of fathers taking up the benefit has “not varied too much” since it was introduced in 2016. “As with maternity benefits, there was a peak in 2021 related to the pandemic,” he said.

The human health and social work sector had the highest rate of maternity leave at 7.2 per 100, while the accommodation and food services sector had the lowest rate at 2.5. The public administration and defence sector had the highest proportion of paternity benefit recipients in 2022, at 5.3 per 100 employees, while the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector had the lowest at 1.5.

Companies with more than 250 employees saw the highest level of both maternity and paternity benefits being taken by employees. Rates stood at 6.3 per 100 female employees and 4.0 per 100 male employees respectively. Small enterprises, which have up to nine employees, had the lowest benefit recipients being taken at 4.8 for maternity and 2.5 for paternity for the same year.

Mr Furlong said that the impact of the pandemic can be seen through these figures. “In addition to the reduction seen in the labour force in 2021, it was noted that the cohort which started maternity leave in 2019, that were due to return to the workplace during the pandemic, were least likely to return to employment,” he said. “The cohort starting maternity leave in 2020 were least likely to receive any top-up pay from their employer during maternity leave. It will be interesting to see how the trends for benefit uptake, maternity payment, and employment status will stabilise in the years after the pandemic,” he said.

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