The New York Times’ website highlights Sweden’s parental leave system in two articles from The International Herald Tribune on June 9th. The system provides parents of young children with 13 months of paid leave, and mandates that dads too take off to care for their little ones. Sweden replaced maternity leave with parental leave in 1974. Aftrer 1995, fathers were required to take at least two months of “pappa-ledigt” (daddy leave) or they would lose parental leave-pay for one month.
“From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future,” Katrin Bennhold writes in her reportage In Sweden, the Men Can Have It All.
The parental leave is fully paid and can be stretched by only taking part-time pay so that a parent can be away from work for several years, and still have their job waiting for them once the leave is up.
“Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.
In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging,” she continues.
Sweden’s and other European countries generous social system goes back to the era after World War II, and in some cases back to the time after the Great Depression. The idea of sharing the parental leave between the sexes was however not an idea from Sweden’s socialist party – Socialdemokraterna – but came from Bengt Westerberg, who led the center-right Liberal People’s Party. In 1986, he proposed that fathers should be required to take parental leave, an idea that was put into law ten years later. Looking back he tells New York Times/IHT that “I was party leader, I thought I was doing something too important, that I was irreplaceable,” then adding “That was nonsense of course. We are all replaceable as workers, managers and politicians. The only place where we truly aren’t replaceable is as fathers.”