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The design of parental insurance influences men’s use of it

Nordic dads take more parental leave than the world average. What are the reasons for this? A new fact sheet from NIKK explains what the parental insurance systems look like in the Nordic countries, and how the design affects fathers’ use of the right to parental leave. The fact sheet also sheds light on how the system rules can be complex or even dysfunctional for parents who do not conform to the heterosexual nuclear family norm.

The ability for both parents to combine parenthood with participation in the labour market has long been a prioritised gender equality issue in the Nordic region. In a global perspective, the Nordic countries are pioneers in promoting parental leave for both parents. Policy interventions aimed to encourage men to take parental leave have been an important factor in this context.

Research shows that men’s share of the total parental leave taken by couples has increased in all Nordic countries since the turn of the millennium. But the change is slow and mothers continue to spend more time than fathers caring for their children. The most gender-equal use of the parental insurance is found in countries that stipulate that a certain portion of the total parental leave granted for a child can only be taken by the father.

A good example of this is Iceland, which in the year 2000 split the parental insurance into three parts. Of the total nine months of parental leave granted for a child, the reform reserved three months for each parent and allowed the parents to split the remaining three months any way they wish. The effect was dramatic. Before the reform, only 0.2−0.4 per cent of Icelandic fathers took parental leave. After the reform, the share climbed to 87 per cent.

Systems not for everybody

Researchers hold that the Nordic parental insurance systems are based on a heterosexual twoness norm. This can make it difficult for families with fewer or additional parents. For example, Finnish fathers can only take parental leave if they live with the child, making the system poorly suited for parents living apart. In Sweden, the rules are based on the assumption that the parents cooperate with each other, which can be problematic if they for example do not get along.

At present, there is only a limited amount of research on how the Nordic parental insurances work for people outside norm, such as rainbow families. The studies that do exist in the area deal mainly with general patterns.

Read more and download the fact sheet in PDF here

Men’s proportion of parental leave days taken, 2014: Denmark 8.6%; Finland 8.3%; Iceland 29.4%; Norway 22.5%; Sweden 25.8%
 Men’s proportion of parental leave days taken, 2014

Updated 2 January 2023