Growing up in Sweden with a dad that not only was given the opportunity, but was legally required, to take paternity care, I find myself extremely lucky. The Swedish system allows parents to stay at home with their child for 480 days in total, while being paid about 80% of their salary by the state.
Meanwhile, the United States, does not have a parental leave law, although many workers (both men and women) are entitled to request up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to care for a newborn child which may be a bit tricky to manage in one of the world’s most expensive cities, unless you’ve been able to stack up a whole lot. Seeing that the average salary for a woman in NYC is $758/week, and the average rent is $3432, I’d say that I might be able to take that time off unpaid and have a baby--if I save for about 60 years. Great. Just great.
My dear Motherland is ranked 4th by the World Economic Forum in their Gender Gap Index for 2014. Sweden still has a long way to go when it comes to parental roles and inequality in the division of maternity/paternity leave, but the realization of the need to address it has at least taken place.
One time, I brought my 84-year old grandma to a nearby city for lunch and all these dads (whom we refer to as “Latte-Pappor,” which basically means Coffee Latte Fathers) were walking around in groups, individually pushing a stroller with a baby or two, and with a coffee in their hands. My grandma, being a lot older, a little bit insensible and from a generation when shared parental leave did not exist, looked surprised and said; “There’s a lot of changes in the world when a man can have a baby with another man and do all the work without a wife, isn’t it?” Yes, grandma. The world is indeed changing, but these guys are actually just on paternity leave.
The Economist reported on the positive impacts of shared parental leave: “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 fathers to change nappies and hang out at playgrounds, in other words, seems to benefit the whole family.”
Childcare by both parents is essential, and yet childcare is still seen as unskilled, low-value labor in comparison to other forms of work. Unless, of course, it is performed by someone who is not the parent or the guardian to the child. Shared parental leave may not get rid of this stigma in particular, but it may at least reduce it.
If structural arrangements can be made for more equal parental arrangements, the risk of an employer seeing a younger woman as a liability when hiring, due to the risk that she might get pregnant and require parental-leave, might be lower.
Parental leave policies also have broader implications for equality.
Traditionally, women have suffered from exclusion from the public sphere, while men suffered from exclusion from the domestic sphere. In the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, Sweden was named one of the world leaders in equality. In Sweden, women’s monthly salaries are 94 per cent of men’s when differences in choice of profession and sector are taken into account. Pay-differentials are most pronounced in the private sector and a huge part of this relatively small gap is due to the shared parental leave act.
The United States has no paid-parental leave and women still only make 77 cent out of the dollar that men make. Many African countries follow that path, along with countries from Asia, the Pacific and the rest of the world. As I mentioned before, Sweden still has a long way to go, but I think that we can all look upon the shared parental leave act as an example to reduce the inequality that women face on a daily basis.
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