The New York Times has a piece today about the changing role of father’s in Sweden after a 1995 law that required men to take parental leave. The results have been lower rates of divorce, higher likeliness of joint custody in the case of divorce and men re-prioritizing their lives to work/life balance as opposed to explicitly focused on career.
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.”
Sweden ranked at the top of the list for best places to be a mother and I think we can deduce that increased opportunities for fathers to be better fathers, actually lightens the load for mothers allowing greater equality at home and at work. One thing the article mentions that is interesting is that in many immigrant communities in Sweden, men don’t chose the paid leave option as often, which I think could be economic or social/cultural, but can’t conclude without more evidence.
But the greater point stands that government support of “daddy” leave has had the impact of making families happier, moms happier and has the potential to change how masculinity is privileged in society. This is definitely something I think worth thinking about and comparing to our very family unfriendly system.
One hundred and seventy-seven nations — including Djibouti, Haiti and Afghanistan — have laws on the books requiring that all women, and in some cases men, receive both income and job-protected time off after the birth of a child. But here, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 provides only unpaid leave, and most working mothers don’t get to stay home with their newborns for the 12 weeks allowed by the law. Many aren’t covered by the FMLA; others can’t afford to take unpaid time off. Some go back to work a few weeks after giving birth, and some go back after mere days.
Interestingly, she discusses how feminists weren’t supportive of paid maternity leave at first due to fear of losing rights gained for women against sex discrimination in the work place. This is in contrast to the fight that is happening in Sweden that has called into question the entire family model when thinking about sustainable models of paid family leave. Side by side, the inequities in the US system do certainly stick out as profoundly unjust and as Lerner says, “family unfriendly.” The US can be so good at getting it wrong sometimes.