Skip to content

Sweden’s Daddy Shift

June 18, 2010

Photo from wikipedia

In many countries around the world, this Sunday is Father’s Day. In his book, The Daddy Shift, Jeremy Adam Smith looks at how our perceptions of fatherhood are changing and shares the stories of fathers who have cut back on paid work to spend more time with their children. A growing number of studies have documented the importance of a father’s early involvement in his children’s lives:  better cognitive development in infants, higher educational attainment, fewer behavioral problems in teen years, lower rates of criminal behavior and better social functioning. But making the “daddy shift” is easier in some countries than in others. In Sweden, for example, where at least two months of parental leave are reserved exclusively for dads, 85 per cent of fathers take parental leave.

As deputy prime minister, Bengt Westerberg introduced Sweden’s first month of “daddy leave” in 1995 (the policy didn’t force fathers to stay home, but if they didn’t, their families would lose one month of subsidies). The share of fathers on leave increased dramatically and in 2002 the government added a second non-transferable month. According to Westerberg and others, this shift in father’s roles is changing the definition of masculinity:

Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs. Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.

The financial incentive also makes for a strong argument with unenthusiastic employers. Fathers are no longer penalized at promotion time and women’s earnings have increased: a recent study found that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.

Evidence of the shift’s effect on Sweden’s view of masculinity comes from a 2008 study comparing dads’ use of paid parental leave in Sweden and France. The study found that French fathers, few of whom take leave, stressed the importance of the mother and child being together when talking about parental leave and childcare. Swedish fathers, by contrast, focused on the importance of being with their children during parental leave.

French fathers’ indication that it’s a mother’s role to care for children reflects a more traditional view of masculinity, while Swedish fathers’ view that it’s important for dads to be involved in caring for children suggests that some real change has occurred in Sweden. Sweden’s supportive parental leave policies may help explain why.

Further support for the importance of  incentivizing parental leave policies comes from Quebec, where the share of fathers who use their parental leave benefits  increased from 36 percent to 56 percent in one year. Coincidentally, it was at the same time the Quebec government introduced a new provincial parental leave program, including five weeks of non-transferable leave for fathers. The program offers up to 75 percent of the father’s average weekly income (in Sweden, fathers receive up to 80 percent of their income). Elsewhere in Canada, only 11 percent of fathers take parental leave. No fathers-only time is offered and fathers receive 55 percent of their average weekly income.

While Sweden’s generous parental leave policies may seem like a distant reality to families in the US and elsewhere, it’s surely a glimpse of the future. As “daddy leave” helps balance moms’ workloads and reshapes our definition of masculinity, it can also create a bond between father and child that might not exist otherwise. According to Alex Smith, a Canadian father who took a six-month paternity leave to spend time with his children:

It’s really the small things, but they all add up to something wonderful. I don’t want to sound corny, but truly it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever had.

4 Comments
  1. June 21, 2010 10:04 am

    “A growing number of studies have documented the importance of a father’s early involvement in his children’s lives: better cognitive development in infants, higher educational attainment, fewer behavioral problems in teen years, lower rates of criminal behavior and better social functioning.”

    I remain unsold on the idea that these things are actually directly tied to the father’s presence. Since out global society refuses to support and provide resources for single mothers, children raised by single mothers are more likely to be raised in poverty. It is the reduced income due to the fact that men typically earn more than women that is causing these problems, not the fact that father is absent. Children who are raised by single mothers who are financially stable do just as well as children who are raised in two parent households.

Trackbacks

  1. Korean Gender Reader « The Grand Narrative
  2. Korean Gender Reader « The Grand Narrative
  3. Burning Cash to Draw Attention to the Gap: Sweden’s Feminist Initiative Party « Gender Across Borders

Comments are closed.

  • Previous Series at GAB

  • TWITTER: What’s going on @GABblog

  • Top Posts

  • Recommended Reading

  • We participated in Blog for International Women’s Day 2010.

  • NetworkedBlogs

  • %d bloggers like this: