A case for paternity leave

A recent article in The Economist on paternity leave in Sweden helped to solidify what, to me, is one of the foremost  things we can do to simultaneously help women get ahead in the workplace and address gender stereotypes in our society (yes, the latter intimately affects the former, but I thought in this situation they deserved to be two separate things, rather than a causal relationship):

Encourage fathers to take paternity leave. Make it worth their while financially, and help them to see how it’s in their interest in other ways as well (if necessary). Notes the article, “One of the most powerful arguments in favour of splitting parental leave more equally is that it has positive ripple effects for women. Since Swedish men started to take more responsibility for child rearing, women have seen both their incomes and levels of self-reported happiness increase. Paying dads to change nappies and hang out at playgrounds, in other words, seems to benefit the whole family.”

According to the 2013 World Happiness Report, Sweden is the #5 happiest country in the world (the United States is #17). I’m not saying there is necessarily a direct correlation between paternity leave and overall happiness, but of the top five countries:

1. “The Danish Parental leave system is among the most generous and flexible in the EU with a total of 52 weeks (one year) of leave containing maternity, paternity and parental.”

2. “In Norway, a key element of success has been the combination of 12 months’ paid parental leave with universal access to childcare at highly subsidised rates.”

3/4. Okay, Switzerland and the Netherlands aren’t quite as good as the Scandinavian countries, but they’re still better than the U.S. 

What would parental leave mean for U.S. parents? For a start, it would signal a shift in the childrearing burden, from mother to mother/father (or parent/parent, though LGBT couples often express a greater balance in home “work,” so for the purposes of this argument let’s focus on dual parent, dual sex households). Creating a culture in which the home burden was more equally shared would hopefully usher in a shift towards balance in the career world: if men and women both see themselves as equally responsible for both home AND career, and are supported in this by government and business policies, we can take a major step towards balancing the gender equation in the workforce. And, maybe, making everyone happier.

 

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