Estonia, Sweden, Norway and Iceland rank highest for family-friendly policies according to UNICEF

Sander Nõmmik
Author Sander Nõmmik
raising kids in estonia unicef

Raising your kids in Estonia is easier than in most countries around the world, according to the latest report by UNICEF. Estonia ranks highest for family-friendly policies in OECD and EU countries together with Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Portugal. Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, United Kingdom and Ireland rank the lowest.

According to the report, Estonia offers mothers the longest duration of leave at full pay at 85 weeks, followed by Hungary (72 weeks) and Bulgaria (65 weeks). The United States is the only country included in the analysis with no national paid leave policy for mothers or fathers.

raising kids in estonia unicef

Produced by UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti the report ranks countries across the OECD and European Union (EU) based on their national family-friendly policies. These policies include the duration of parental leave at full pay equivalent, and childcare services for children aged between 0-6 years old.

“There is no time more critical to children’s brain development – and therefore their futures – than the earliest years of life,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “We need governments to help provide parents with the support they need to create a nurturing environment for their young children. And we need the support and influence of the private sector to make this happen.”

Family-friendly policies strengthen the bond between parents and their children, which is critical for the development of families and socially cohesive societies. Triin Visnapuu-Sepp, Head of Work in Estonia programme says that in Estonia it is nice to keep your work-family life balance in order.

“Estonia has generous family-friendly policies which allow parents to spend quality time with their children and to support their children´s development. If you decide to relocate to Estonia with your family, then our counsellors at the International House can help you with common topics such as family benefits, finding kindergarten spots and so on,” Visnapuu-Sepp said. You can book your appointment online on our website.

Overview of raising your children in Estonia:

Parental leave at full pay for 1,5 years

In Estonia, the government offers parental leave at full pay for 1,5 years which is the most generous offer in the world. According to UNICEF´s report, Estonia offers mothers the longest duration of leave at full pay at 85 weeks, followed by Hungary (72 weeks) and Bulgaria (65 weeks). The United States is the only country included in the analysis with no national paid leave policy for mothers or fathers.

Only half of countries offer at least six months of leave at full pay for mothers. Take a closer look at parental leave in 41 countries – Are the world’s richest countries family friendly? Policy in the OECD and EU .

Fathers can also stay on paternity leave

In Estonia, the parental leave can be used by both a mother and a father. It lets one parent stay at home until the child turns three years old. Paid parental leave should be taken by one parent at a time and you can take turns. According to UNICEF, paid paternity leave helps fathers bond with their babies, contributes to healthy infant and child development, lowers maternal depression and increases gender equality.

In addition to this, a father has the right to receive a total of ten working days of free time within two months prior to the expected due date as determined by a doctor or midwife, and within two months of the birth of the child. This helps families prepare for the arrival of a new family member.

High-quality childcare and education

Estonia is a top performer in terms of its education system, according to the OECD. Estonian students are consistently far above the curve in areas of literacy, math and science on the PISA tests. In science, Estonia is tied for first place in Europe with Finland.

Pre-school education in Estonia is for children aged between 18 months and 7 years, through a variety of local authorities and private establishments. If you choose, your child can stay at home until compulsory education begins at age 7. Read more about kindergartens in Estonia.

Your child can study in an Estonian, Russian or English language school. Read more about education in Estonia and see the list of schools where the language of instruction is English. 

Family benefits in Estonia

If you´re in Estonia with your child(ren), you can apply for a number of different benefits to make your life a bit easier. State family allowances are paid:

  • to permanent residents of Estonia
  • to aliens who hold a temporary residence permit.

State family benefits in Estonia include:

  • childbirth allowance, which is a single benefit paid upon the birth of a child in the amount of 320 euros.
  • adoption benefit
  • child allowance
  • childcare benefit
  • single parent’s child allowance
  • conscript’s child allowance (or child allowance to person in alternative service)
  • foster care allowance
  • parent’s allowance for families with three or more children.

The state pays family benefits to all children until they turn 16 years of age. During the period of receiving child care allowance, the parent also has health insurance. Read more about the monthly child benefits and child care allowances on


Source: Access the full-length report by UNICEF here.