Sweden is an example of a higher employment rate and a higher birth rate for men and women in developed countries, all of which should be attributed to its government’s persistent efforts to promote gender equality. Among them, the most commendable is Sweden’s innovation in promoting parental leave and paternity leave.
As early as the mid-1970s, the Swedish government took the lead in passing legislation to replace the mother’s maternity leave with paid parental leave enjoyed by parents. This legislation passed 45 years ago allowed parents to share 180 days of leave. Although this was a gender-neutral family policy, it was a pioneering move at the time. Today, more than 40 years later, Swedish fathers are legally entitled to exclusive paid paternity leave for three months. “Latte dad” who takes care of babies while drinking coffee in public has been seen everywhere.
The origin and evolution of paternity leave
In 1986, Sweden further legislation allowed parents to share nine months of paid parental leave. However, due to deep-rooted patriarchal habits, women’s responsibility for child care is still a blind social norm. In order to solve the problem of the dads not taking vacations, the Swedish government took a more solid step in the 1990s. The Parental Leave Act, which came into effect on January 1, 1995, provides a paid paternity leave tailored specifically for fathers. This legislation can be said to be a prototype of the current Swedish childcare policy.
Following the launch of the first exclusive “father month” in 1995, Sweden stipulated a second “father month” in 2002. The leave time doubled and the legal length of parental leave was increased from 12 months to 13 months. In 2008, Sweden also set up a special incentive fund. The more days the father takes off, the more allowance he gets. If the couple takes a break of 240 days each, the reward can reach the highest value. From January 1, 2016, the father’s paternity leave was once again extended to 3 months. The “triple increase” of paternity leave has really worked, and now 90% of dads take paid leave. But on average, they only take 3 to 4 months, which accounts for about a quarter of the total length of paid parental leave.
As a high-welfare country, Sweden’s paternity treatment is well-known worldwide. Sweden is known for its family-friendly policies. After each child is born, the state generously pays the parents of the newborn for 16 months (480 days) of paid parental leave. Parents receive about 80% of their regular salary for 390 days, and a fixed rate of 20 euros per day for the remaining 90 days. Of the 480 days, both parents have 90 days of vacation that are forfeited if they are not used. In other words, the mother can only take 390 days off at best. This shows that the intention of state intervention is to encourage men and their wives to share vacations more equally.
Welfare spillovers under changing ideas
In view of the fact that the stereotyped conception of gender roles in the society constitutes a major obstacle to achieving equality between men and women, the government has been making great efforts in various media to address the structural roots behind gender inequality. Through a large number of publicity and education activities, the people’s concept of parenthood and gender equality has been subtly changed. For example, in the mass media, well-known men and even celebrities “tough guys” are often molded into competent child caregivers. Thanks to the government’s active intervention, the parental shared parental leave system has become more mature over time and more and more popular with parents. After decades of practice, this culture has deeply taken root. All these help parents, especially mothers, find a work-family balance, thereby reducing the pressure and burden of parenting.
Studies have shown that the more fathers take leave, the shorter it takes for women to return to the workplace. Currently, about nine out of ten mothers will return to the workplace. Sweden is one of the developed countries with extremely high female employment rate in the world, reaching 78.3%, ranking first in the European Union. This offsets the negative consequences of the interruption of their career to a certain extent, and mothers with more choices will also bring more welfare to the family. Fathers share the unpaid childcare and housework that are traditionally almost entirely lost to mothers, and the gender boundaries of reproductive labor are gradually blurred. Men who leave their jobs to accompany their children have the opportunity to taste the ups and downs of being a father and the hardships and cumbersomeness of parenting, so that they can better understand and consider their wives and even their mothers. This change in the role of the father is recognized to help improve marriage satisfaction and family life quality, and reduce the divorce rate.