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01 Sep 2020

Learnings from Scandinavia on how shared parental leave can encourage gender equality

All across the world, Scandinavia is known for its generous paid parental leave policies. While there are some variations between the parental leave systems in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, one thing they all have in common is an emphasis on both parents sharing the leave.




Why is shared parental leave important? It promotes gender equality, reduces the impact that leave may have on the mother's career and enables fathers to play a more prominent role in the early part of their child's life.

In the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) report, Who takes care of the children?, it states that one of the goals of the shared parental leave policy is to encourage gender equality in the labour market.

Norway’s original rationale was also to promote gender equality by encouraging more women to return to the labour force, shares Line Anita Schou, the country’s directorate of labour and welfare.

Shared parental leave in Scandinavia

In Sweden, parents are entitled to share 480 days paid parental leave per child. Each parent can transfer part of their leave to the other parent if they wish. Ninety days are, however, reserved for each parent and cannot be transferred to the other parent.

In Denmark, parents receive 52 weeks of paid parental leave and can split 32 weeks of leave however they wish.

In Norway, parents can choose 49 weeks (at 100% coverage) or 59 weeks (at 80% coverage). Both mother and fathers each receive 15 weeks non-transferable parental leave. Parents then receive 16 or 18 weeks of unallocated leave to share as they see fit.

Shared parental leave in the UK
In 2015, the UK government also introduced shared parental leave in the UK. Eligible parents can share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay between them.

A study conducted by The TUC reveals that, unfortunately, of the more than 900,000 UK parents who were eligible for shared parental leave in 2018, only 9,200 parents made use of it.

Could awareness be the issue? A survey conducted by employment website Monster.co.uk in 2018 found that 50% of UK employees were unaware that their company even offered shared parental leave.

The daddy quota
In Norway and Sweden, there is a so-called "daddy quota", which is a part of the parental leave period exclusively reserved for fathers. If the father doesn’t take his allotted period of leave, the family loses it. Thanks to this daddy quota, nine of 10 Swedish fathers now take leave.

Norway has seen similar success with about three-quarters of fathers taking the amount stipulated in the quota, while one in five take a few weeks more than the quota.  

In the UK, where there are no quotas, 46% of the employees surveyed by Monster.co.uk agreed that employers should promote shared parental leave to encourage more men to participate in the programme, and to drive gender equality forward in the workplace. 

Shared responsibility

An article in The Guardian shares the experiences of one UK father who moved his family to Sweden. The young dad observes that, during the week, he sees more dads out with babies than mums and that, thanks to the Sweden’s daddy quota, it’s just assumed that new fathers will be away from work for months, instead of days.

The UK father also shares that Swedish dads are better at sharing child-rearing responsibilities as well as day-to-day duties, which “takes pressure off mums to be responsible for everything”.

The study, Changes in gender equality? Swedish fathers’ parental leave, division of childcare and housework (2014), confirms that there is substantially more equal division of responsibilities when fathers take more than one month’s paternity leave.

Want to learn more about parental leave in Scandinavia? Download our whitepaper, Parental leave in Scandinavia – a guide for UK employers.

This article is provided by Benify.

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