I recently got back to work after having a baby in March. But while I’m typing on my laptop to earn money for food and toys (as one two-year-old relative put it), my little son is not taken care of by a nanny. He is with his father, who’s now taking time off his work as an architect for at least six months. A male friend of mine, an art director, just finished his six months of paternity leave and at my daughter’s day care centre, a teacher-dad has stayed at home for a full year. In Sweden, tables have turned and these days, men have to do some explaining if they take no paternity leave at all.
Until the 1970s, paternity leave was all but non-existent in Sweden. A general parental leave replaced maternity leave in 1974, but that year, only 562 brave dads took the chance to stay at home. These pioneers were, mockingly, referred to as “velvet dads”. Last year, 44 per cent of Swedish dads took out at least some paternity leave. We’re still far from sharing parental leave 50/50 and a study by the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) recently predicted that it will take another 50 years before that happens. But the direction is right and currently the ratio is more or less 25/75.
Largely, this is the result of political decisions. In 1995, one month of the paid leave was allocated to the father, and another in 2002. (The entire leave is 13 months long with 80 per cent of your salary, and another three months with a lower payment.) The income limit for the benefit has been raised to meet men’s higher wages. And, due to political backing, employers no longer start sighing when a male employee tells them that he’s planning to stay at home with his child.
With less than three weeks to the Swedish parliamentary elections, parental leave is on the table again. Family politics is a vital issue in the elections, and each party is trying to coax parents as best they can. The Green Party and the Social Democrats are advocating a three-part allocation of the parental leave – one for mum, one for dad and one to be decided freely – while the Left Party wants to allocate it 50/50. The conservative party Moderaterna is betting on an “equality bonus” instead, promising extra money for parents who share the leave equally between them.
Based on surveys, the latter route seems like the safest option: several have shown that most Swedes are against quotas. Some dads don’t want to stay at home and some mums are reluctant to give up any of their maternity leave. In fact, as popular as paternity leave is becoming, a new study by United Minds recently revealed another trend in the making. Women born in the 1980s think that their sisters born in the 1970s dream too much about equality, the study says. They should relax and stop obsessing. And what do they dream of? Becoming beautiful stay-at-home mums, just like the women in Desperate Housewives and Mad Men.