New York Times Takes On Paternity Leave in Sweden
So the world has come calling on Daddyland, or at least the world called the New York Times. The article – pasted below – is a fairly good mishmash of the very big issue of paternity leave and masculinity in Sweden. I can’t say they get anything wrong, more that they try and throw 10 themes together quickly.
And I love that they emphasize the masculinity, just to drive home the point that child care does not equal wimpy. Of course, they overstated it, as most Swedish dads are rather mild mannered, not out on snowmobiles. But still, life in Daddyland is not one for the weak.
For any newcomers, this whole blog is on paternity leave and the changing nature of fatherhood in Sweden. So take a spin around …
From the Times:
SPOLAND, SWEDEN — Mikael Karlsson owns a snowmobile, two hunting dogs and five guns. In his spare time, this soldier-turned-game warden shoots moose and trades potty-training tips with other fathers. Cradling 2-month-old Siri in his arms, he can’t imagine not taking baby leave. “Everyone does.”
From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.
In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. For nearly four decades, governments of all political hues have legislated to give women equal rights at work — and men equal rights at home.
Swedish mothers still take more time off with children — almost four times as much. And some who thought they wanted their men to help raise baby now find themselves coveting more time at home.
But laws reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for fathers — a quota that could well double after the September election — have set off profound social change.
Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.
In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.
“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”
Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” Ms. Ohlsson, who has lobbied European Union governments to pay more attention to fathers, is eight months pregnant, and her husband, a law professor, will take the leave when their child is born.
“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”
And the economy doesn’t suffer!
Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going.
“There are remarkably few complaints,” said Linda Haas, a professor of sociology atIndiana University currently at the University of Goteborg. With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.”
Companies, facing high payroll taxes and women and men taking leave in unpredictable installments, can be less sure.
Tales of male staff members being discouraged from long leave are still not uncommon, although it is not fashionable to say so. Mr. Boklund said his office “was not happy” about his extended absence.
Bodil Sonesson Gallon, head of sales at Axis Communications, an IT company that specializes in video surveillance, admits that parental leave can be disruptive — for careers and companies. She laments that with preschools starting at 12 months and little alternative child care, there is huge pressure for parents to take at least a year off.
Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused.
“The key issue for business is planning ahead,” said Ms. Bergstrom.
But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.
Some managers try to make the most of the short-term openings to test potential recruits. Others say planning longer absences is easier and encourage fathers to take six months rather than three. A system of flexible working hours has evolved. Even senior employees may leave at 4:30 p.m. to collect children from school, but are expected to log on at home at night. A growing number of employers top up the salary replacement the state pays parents to 90 percent of their salary for several months.
For many companies, a family-friendly work pattern has simply become a new way of attracting talent.
“Graduates used to look for big paychecks. Now they want work-life balance,” said Goran Henriksson, head of human resources at the cellphone giant Ericsson in Sweden, where last year 28 percent of female employees took leave, and 24 percent of male staff did. “We have to adapt.”