Sweden Has an Amazing New Parental Leave Policy, and the US Should Take Note
American women have been concerned about work-life balance for decades: They've discussed the second shift of housework and caregiving, with which working women are disproportionately burdened, debated whether or not to "opt out" of the workplace and have wondered whether they truly can have it all. But one of the most crucial elements of this discussion is often one of the most underdiscussed: What role do men play in creating this balance? It seems like Sweden may have the answer.
Sweden's new policy: Starting in 2016, Swedish fathers must take a third month of paid parental leave, Jezebel reported. The country already allowed parents to split up to 16 months of paid leave, but previously required that fathers only had to take off a minimum of two of those months. Now, mothers and fathers are each required to take three months off and divide the remaining 10 months however they choose, the Guardian reported.
While this decision certainly benefits parents and their newborns alike, it also serves a greater purpose: achieving gender equality.
In 2012, men took only 24% of parental leave time, according to the Swedish government. Since Swedish men still earn more on average than women and only 40% of Swedish women work full-time compared with 75% of men, the Guardian reported, this policy is meant to encourage men to stay home longer and potentially allow women to work more. Hopefully, this will result in better workplace equality.
The U.S. approach: Sweden's new policy highlights just how far behind the United States' parental leave policies are. While the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows American workers to take 12 weeks of unpaid time away from work, the United States is one of the only developed countries that doesn't guarantee paid maternity leave. Providing paid family leave falls on individual companies or on state governments like California, which is one of only three states with such a program. In fact, a mere 10% to 15% of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave, and almost all that do are white-collar professions, NPR reported in 2014.
Yet more fathers than ever before want paid leave and to be more involved parents. One 2014 Boston College survey found that the majority of fathers rated paid parental leave as important or extremely important, although 96% noted they were only allowed two weeks or less.
Extending paid leave doesn't just benefit fathers, but mothers too. A 2013 World Economic Forum report found that countries with the strongest economies are those with policies that support women in the workforce, including paid parental leave, the Atlantic reported in 2014. Paternity leave, one study found, is "a crucial time of renegotiation," as patterns couples establish in the early days of their child's life "turn out to be surprisingly permanent," according to the same Atlantic report.
What's more, plenty have noted that paid paternity leave is not just beneficial to parents, but to the companies that employ them. The consulting firm Blue State Digital found, for example, that increasing paid parental leave results in "long-term benefits of higher retention and productivity" as well as the ability to attract better talent, ThinkProgress reported in February.
It's clear, therefore, that paid parental leave for all parents benefits all. Sweden figured this out. Now it's America's turn.