Sweden’s Paternity Leave

Today the Times ran an article on family leave in Sweden. Our close friends are Swedish. They have just had their third child. We have observed with some envy the social support they have in raising their family. Sweden provides free quality obstetric care, state-subsidized childcare beginning at one year and at least 14 months of paid parental leave, of which fathers are required to take 2 months. These family policies are credited with increasing gender equity in the workplace, declining divorce rates, a new division of household labor and changing notions of masculinity. Here’s the article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html

We have been Inspired by the way in which our friends find balance in their family and professional lives with the help of Sweden’s family policies. There are still challenges, to be sure, especially since the husband’s work is fairly competitve and requires frequent travel. Despite his high-level and successful career, however, he is more involved with this children and more comfortable parenting him than most American dads. Once we learned about our friends’ leave with their first child (she took about 10 months and then he took about 4), we examined Jason’s employee benefits and determined that he could take family leave for the first semester after the birth of our second child. Jason was the first male member of the faculty to do so. His leave allowed him to be the primary caregiver during daytime hours while I worked. Jason is a great dad, in part because he has been able to take the time to be one.

In addition to an advantageous leave policy, our academic careers and the University calendar provide flexibility that we exploit when it comes to balancing work and family. Most people in the United States must "punch in" and out of work and cannot choose to work in the evenings and at home the way we can. However, the Times article suggests that workplace routines are changing in light of Sweden’s pro-family orientation as people increasingly leave early to pick kids up at school with the expectation being that they will put in more work time in the evening.

Bengt Westerberg, Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister and a political figure who has been crucial to the establishment of the country’s family policies, believes that efforts at creating more gender equality in the workplace are incomplete if they do not also address home life. “Society is a mirror of the family,” Mr. Westerberg said. “The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that.” (From the Times Article). I couldn’t agree more.

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