The pictures of fathers in Sweden on paternity leave taking care of their children went viral earlier this year on social media with expressions of surprise and shock. We asked ourselves two questions: What would it take for such pictures to be more common? And more importantly, are paternity leaves more than just photo-ops? Here are some of the answers we discovered.
Paternity leave, time taken off from work by fathers to care for their newly born children, has become a hot debate all around the world in recent years. Researchers say that in the United States, 10 to 15 percent of employers offer paid paternity leave, most in white-collar professions. However, in some countries, such as Sweden, it is more common: 90 percent of Swedish fathers benefit from leave after the births of their children. And yet, countries around the world seem to be refusing to learn from Sweden and follow suit.
Paternity leave policies are good for parents and workplaces, and help build healthy families. Paternity leave makes economic sense as it encourages women’s labor force participation, as well as increases the rate of return to work after maternity leaves. The existence of paternity leave can lead to a more egalitarian relationship between men and women, which is something that both women and men long for. It’s a policy that Sweden has found helps families economically and pushes back on traditional gender roles that keep men from bonding with their children and women from being able to equally participate in the workforce.
1. Paternity leave makes economic sense
The World Economic Forum found that paternity leave is crucial to encouraging women’s labor force participation. According to the research, it has a direct economic policy implication as it can be a way to make the best use of human capital. Paternity leave can improve the economic situation of women by increasing their return to the workforce and creating a more equal relationship in terms of child care.
Policies like paternal leave could help prevent the discrimination of women by employers. Many employers tend to view women as discontinuous workers, meaning that they take leave in their careers for pregnancy, birth, and childcare. An employer’s assessment of a female employee can be discriminatory, resulting in men with similar or even fewer skills or qualifications being preferred to female candidates. What would our workplaces look like if more fathers were able to take paternity leave like in Sweden? This could cause a change in the minds of employers because both parents would be willing to take care of a child, rather than the assumption that it’s the sole responsibility of women. While of course there would be considerations of the fact that some men could take leave, and then seem to be less hardworking by the other men, mandatory leaves would ensure that all men take some leave. Therefore, gender discrimination by employers could be decreased, if not totally solved, by the existence of paternal leaves. Existence of paternity leaves can help equalize women’s and men’s commitment to work. Eventually, the pay gap between men and women might decrease with the existence of paternity leave.
This increase can be both direct and indirect. With an increase in the share of housework provided by the husband, women may experience a decrease in stress and tiredness after the birth or adoption of a child, and during childrearing years. This may cause women to be more willing to return to the workforce or decrease the time they take off from work.
2. Women want egalitarian relationships
Studies have shown that women and men both want more egalitarian relationships. Most young people seem to be interested in an egalitarian relationship that provides shared responsibilities for family and work. Policies such as paternity leave and child care subsidies encourage women to seek egalitarian relationships. If the men can take paternity leaves, family and work responsibilities can be shared. The fact that paternity leave leads to increased gender equality can be seen clearly with the example of Sweden. Sweden, one of the most gender equal countries in the world, has the highest female labor force participation rate of 60 percent. Women and men seem to share family and work responsibilities through the parental leaves that are provided for both genders. Therefore, the existence of paternity leave in Sweden seems to have helped create more egalitarian relationships between men and women.
3. It is possible! If Sweden can do it, why can’t everyone else?
In Sweden, parents are allowed to take up to 480 days of parental leave per child. While this leave can be taken any time after the child is born or adopted, parents are encouraged to take their leave equally. Specifically, 60 fixed days are assured for both parents and the rest can be divided among the parents according to their own wishes. Although women still tend to take more leave days, the number of days that men take off is growing. In 2012, men took 24 percent of parental leave time. In most cases, parents are supported with 80 percent of their original salary for up to 390 days. As is in the cases of Australia and New Zealand, the parents’ salaries are funded by the national government insurance agency, not by the employers. If the parents were not working prior to the birth of the child, the government provides a minimum daily salary to the parents.
Looking at the chart, on the other hand, it can be seen that most of the developed or developing world seems not to care about or has barriers to paternity leave. The United Kingdom seems to be the best at providing paid parental leave among the countries in the chart. In the United Kingdom, the total parental leave for both mothers and fathers is 280 days, with the first six weeks being paid 90 percent of the salary and after that being paid a flat rate. On the other hand, countries such as Switzerland, Canada, Turkey, and China only provide paid maternity leave for a certain number of days. In this sense United Kingdom slightly differs from these countries, as they provide both paid paternity and maternity leaves. But if Sweden can do it, why can’t rest of the world?
4. Fight traditional gender roles
Yes, we are in 2015, but paternity leave advocates, such as the writer Katie McDonough, are still bombarded with claims that women and men are naturally different and want different things. But as previously mentioned, it has finally been proved that women want egalitarian relationships. For starters, one of the benefits of paternity leave is that it gives fathers the opportunity to spend more time with their children than they would otherwise. If mothers take on most of the housework, childcare, and job responsibilities, or if they take leave with worries about an existing job, they might go through hard times. For the father to understand and empathize with the mother is important in this sense as well, since it would also contribute to the mother’s well-being if she shared the sudden increase of workload after the child. The empathy, and the opportunity of the father to put himself in the mother’s shoes, can help change social norms. This process of empathy can make people more aware of the inequalities in childcare workload and in gender roles in general. Paternity leave may help change the traditional division of labor in families—women as the ‘homemakers’ and men as the ‘breadwinners’. The increase in women’s labor force participation and the increase in men’s involvement with childcare and housework can contribute to this. Unfortunately, traditional gender roles will continue to dominate as long as alternatives do not become commonplace. The time is now!