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Many Obstacles for Danish Dads

The work in the Nordic countries to increase gender equality in the area of parental leave is often used internationally as a positive example – but the situation is more complex than it may seem. Differences in the right to parental leave depending on the place of work, resistance from management, the notion of ‘normalcy’ and the connection in society between masculinity and work, have a strong influence on the low rates of parental leave among Danish men.

Photo: Colourbox
 Photo: Colourbox

‘In contrast to other Nordic countries, the Danish national system for parental leave does not reserve a certain number of days for fathers. Danish men’s take-up of parental leave is also the lowest in the Nordic region: about 7.7 per cent of the days,’ says Lotte Bloksgaard.

Bloksgaard, assistant professor at Aalborg University, has studied parental leave among Danish men and what affects their use of it. In a session titled Comparing Care Policies and Practice, Bloksgaard presented her research at the Nordic masculinity conference in Reykjavik last week.

In Denmark, the minimum right to parental leave is set out in law, but paternal leave is also regulated through collective agreements and employer contracts. However, 25 per cent of Danish employers are not covered by collective agreements.

‘Consequently, the right to paternal leave – and therefore also men’s opportunities to go on parental leave – varies depending on sector and employer.’

Bloksgaard has studied three places of work with a varying degree of ‘family friendliness’. For example, some offered both paid ‘daddy leave’ and paid parental leave (available to both women and men).

‘I found that when an employer implemented an earmarking policy, meaning that a certain share of the parental leave could only be utilised by the father, the men generally took out their allotted number of days. But they rarely touched the days that were available to both parents.’

One of the studied employers, a shop, did not offer any parental leave besides the legislated minimum. Coincidentally, none of the fathers at this establishment took out any parental leave. When first interviewed by Bloksgaard, a mid-level manager, Ulrik, stressed the importance of taking out paternal leave for his first daughter. He said that not even ‘wild horses’ could to stop him. He had already decided to request two months of paternal leave and in so doing become the first man at his job to ever go on parental leave. In Bloksgaard’s second interview with the man, he admitted that he would not go on parental leave after all, because of ‘new responsibilities at work’.

Several other men also perceived resistance from the human resource department or managers.

‘Even if you’re entitled to parental leave, you’re influenced by what colleagues do, by what’s considered normal, by company culture and by the support you get from managers and the human resource department,’ says Bloksgaard.

She mentions that in Denmark, there is still a strong notion that masculinity is linked to work capacity.

‘The fact that fathers have to negotiate their parental leave without legislative support leads to reduced opportunities to act as responsible parents.’

Updated 26 September 2020