In 1995, Sweden began to revolutionise the social stigma, preconceptions and inequality surrounding parental leave. With such dramatic results, it’s a wonder that more countries have not followed suit.
The introduction of a scheme that saw families gain an extra month of paid parental leave if it is taken by the father, saw a huge change in the expectations and attitude towards men sharing responsibilities for childcare; “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.” said Bengt Westerberg, the deputy prime minister at the time responsible for the change.
This might seem all well and good for the typical heterosexual couple, and might seem a million miles away from many of you reading this – but the knock-on effects have been highly significant across society. Both men and women are more free to prioritise areas of their lives which are most imortant to them, rather than what societal norms dictate; they are able to choose both family and their careers, without it meaning their partner has to miss out on one; and it means that social stereotypes and gendered roles are quickly disappearing, even in the most rural, conservative areas.
Before this scheme was introduced, despite already being much more forward thinking than most other countries, Sweden faced a vicious circle. “Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career.” reported Katrin Bennhold in her NY Times article.
Introducing “daddy leave” in 1995 had an immediate impact. No father was forced to stay home, but the family lost one month of subsidies if he did not. Soon more than eight in 10 men took leave. The addition of a second nontransferable father month in 2002 only marginally increased the number of men taking leave, but it more than doubled the amount of time they take.
The results have more than spoken for themselves:
the daddy months have left their mark. A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed, for instance, that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.
Among those with university degrees, a growing number of couples split the leave evenly; some switch back and forth every few months to avoid one parent assuming a dominant role — or being away from jobs too long. The higher women rank, the more they resemble men: few male chief executives take parental leave — but neither do the few female chief executives.
Bennhold suggests that “Understanding what it is to be home with a child may help explain why divorce and separation rates in Sweden have dropped since 1995 — at a time when divorce rates elsewhere have risen, according to the national statistics office. When couples do divorce or separate, shared custody has increased.” Maybe the American Family Association want to take a strong look at these findings and consider how much they want to stick to their traditional family views.
In a world where only 1 in 10 corporate board seats in listed companies in OECD countries in 2009 were occupied by women (despite them achieving higher return on equity than their male peers); where women hold only 25% of seats in Parliaments; and where women average only 27% of judges worldwide (Source: UN Women) – parity between the sexes is still very much an issues. For those who disregard feminism as a unnecessary, out-dated vent for frustrated females, think again – gendered norms, inequalities, and barriers to opportunities for all (be they women, LGBT, disabled, ethnic minority etc) are far from resolved.