Sweden is encouraging moms to return to work with one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world. The state allows 480 days of paid leave for each couple with a new baby, and reserves 90 of those for the dad on a use-or-lose basis. The policy gives a powerful incentive for fathers to take time off work: mothers in Sweden now take 75% of parental pay compared to 99.5% in the 1970s, and parents say it’s transformed national attitudes to childcare and gender.
Results & Impact
In 2014, men were taking one quarter of the total paternal pay available for a couple – more than their minimum allocation. In 1974, when changes to maternity leave were first instituted, men look just 0.5%. Sweden is ranked fourth out of 145 countries in the World Economic Forum gender gap rating for 2015.
Ministry for Social Affairs Sweden
Sweden's parental leave policies have been implemented by the state in stages, starting in 1975. Then, maternal leave was changed to parental leave, with both parents getting an equal right to paid time off to care for a child. Two decades later, when it became clear that men weren't using their legal allocation of leave, the policy was changed to allow fathers 30 days of "use-it-or-lose-it" time off. The relatively high cost of parental leave in Sweden is made possible by high levels of taxation.
Women, general public
Cost & Value
The annual cost of parental leave is around $3.2 billion.
Running since 1995
The policy is still confined by existing gender inequalities. Only 40% of Swedish women work full time, for example, compared to 75% of men, and men are paid higher wages. This limits the extent to which the policy can foster equal parenting: even with the nudge, women still tend to spend more time at home with their children than their male partners.
Other countries that offer generous, non-transferable paid paternal leave include Portugal, Belgium, Iceland and France. Japan and South Korea both offer 52 weeks of paternal leave to fathers. The implementation of this policy has had a big impact: in the first half of 2015, the number of dads taking leave grew by 40%. But only 5% of parents taking leave in South Korea are fathers, and the system differs from Sweden's in that the father's quota is not part of a larger couple's allowance, but instead of the mother's time off.
Sweden’s commitment to parental leave has made it an international leader when it comes to workplace gender equality.
The Scandinavian state first legislated for more equal parenting in 1974, when it replaced maternity leave with parental leave. But it wasn’t until 1995 when the policy took its current form, allocating fathers paternity leave that could not be transferred to the mother.
The altered policy was based on disappointing outcomes of the 1974 structure. After 20 years of equal opportunity, women were still using 90% of the leave days. Social expectations and economic factors – such as men earning more – meant that giving families the chance to take equal leave simply wasn’t enough: policy needed to nudge fathers toward taking time off.
The new solution created a quota for leave which could only be used by fathers. Dads were given 30 days off, and if they didn’t take the allocated time the days couldn’t be used at all. In 2002, the policy was changed to give fathers 60 days, and in spring 2017 it was updated again to allow them 90.
By 2014, men were taking one quarter of the total paternal pay available to the couple. That’s much more than they previously took, and more than their minimum allocation.
Reports also suggest that the policy has changed men’s attitudes to caring for their children and taking time off work. Men describe a society in which taking time off to care for kids is regarded as normal, and Faceboook groups for dads to socialise while they look after their kids are popular. A photo series documenting Swedish fathers caring for children went viral last year, with many news outlets arguing that the parental leave policies had improved family life.
But even without the dad’s allocation, Sweden still has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world. All new parents in the country are entitled to 480 days of paid leave at 80% of their usual pay, up to $110 a day. This is paid by the government for 390 of the days they take off, although it may also be topped up by employers to more closely match what they’d ordinarily be paid. For the remaining 90 days parents are paid a flat rate.
Sweden is also unusual in encouraging paternity leave until later in the child’s life – the allocation can be used at any point before their eighth birthday. And when parents do go back to their jobs, they are legally entitled to work 25% less – without pay – until their child is eight years old. Child allowance is calculated at around $120 per month per child, and is paid until children are 16.
Paid parental leave has been shown to have a positive effect on children’s development, too. A 2011 study indicated that it could reduce child mortality by around 10%. And fathers who spent time with their children were shown to have better relationships with them, and to be more involved with childrearing, leading to improved wellbeing for both kids and mothers.
(Picture credit: Pexels)