Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Posts Tagged ‘paternity leave

Parental leave, social norms and the wage gap in Sweden

with 2 comments

It’s difficult to legislate discrimination out of existence when that discrimination makes good business sense. As long as employers can reasonably predict that women will spend more time on childcare than men, we should expect some sort of wage and seniority gap in the workplace. (I do think that we probably overestimate the degree to which parenting hurts mothers’ job performance, while underestimating how much it affects fathers, actually, but that’s a whole other issue.)

The long-term solution is for men, in the aggregate, to take as much responsibility for child-rearing as women. That doesn’t mean that every family must split childcare 50/50 – in fact, for many families that wouldn’t make sense. But we need to make paternity leave socially acceptable.

Shifting from maternity leave to parental leave is a symbolic step in that direction, but on its own, we shouldn’t expect it to change care giving patterns. That’s one point I took away from this thorough and revealing Times piece about fatherhood in Sweden.

Despite government campaigns — one featuring a champion weightlifter with a baby perched on his bare biceps — the share of fathers on leave was stalled at 6 percent when [Bengt] Westerberg entered government in 1991. […]

“I always thought if we made it easier for women to work, families would eventually choose a more equal division of parental leave by themselves,” said Mr. Westerberg, 67. “But I gradually became convinced that there wasn’t all that much choice.”

Sweden, he said, faced a vicious circle. Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career.

So Westerberg, as deputy prime minister, started phasing in some heavy-handed policies in 1995. Now two months of parental leave is reserved exclusively for men. This has substantially increased the number of fathers taking time off work, and that has had an impact on wages.

A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed, for instance, that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.

That’s great, but I’m also interested in women who do not have children. If women who don’t intend to have kids or take maternity leave are being hurt by their potential children, by assumptions that come from other women’s behaviour (and the evidence suggests that they are) then this sort of broad social change should help.

Along those lines, the parental leave policy is apparently shifting gender norms for men:

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.”

I think we don’t say enough about how restrictive gender norms limit men’s choices, pushing them to, for example, focus exclusively on work when they might be happier spending time with their kids.

(Hat tip to kottke.)

Written by Allison

15 June 2010 at 7:00 pm

Human development and paternity leave

with 5 comments

Marginal Revolution pointed me towards this lengthy Guardian feature on Iceland, which has topped the UNDP’s Human Development Index ranking.

Iceland’s economy defies the conventional wisdom – they maintain a generous social welfare state with relatively low tax rates and only 1 per cent unemployment. It probably doesn’t hurt that Iceland has no armed forces. (This is a good reminder of how much of the world’s resources go into defences, and how much surplus we have to gain from building a stable and peaceful international system…)

This tiny arctic country is also a bit of a riddle when it comes to women’s rights. Iceland has the highest birth rate in Europe, and the highest divorce rate, and it is apparently not uncommon for women to have their first child at 21 or 22, while still in university. None of these things would seem to lead to women’s empowerment, but Icelandic women work outside the home in higher rates than anywhere else in the world, including in positions of influence.

Part of this might stem from Iceland’s unique Viking background, Carlin suggests. While the men went abroad to pillage and conquer, women were left in charge. That’s interesting, but not something that, say, Canadian women can put into practice. I’m often discouraged by how few of these success stories seem replicable. There is one lesson here, though, about the importance of universal child care and paternity leave:

…if you are in a job the state gives you nine months on fully paid child leave, to be split among the mother and the father as they so please. ‘This means that employers know a man they hire is just as likely as a woman to take time off to look after a baby,’ explained Svafa Grönfeldt, currently rector of Reykjavik University, previously a very high-powered executive. ‘Paternity leave is the thing that made the difference for women’s equality in this country.’

Of course, paternity leave can’t have this effect unless large numbers of men take advantage of it. But creating that option is a first step.

Written by Allison

21 May 2008 at 11:56 am