In Sweden, the Men Can Have It All
June 9, 2010 7:56 PM   Subscribe

"In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate." "From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future." "“Society is a mirror of the family,” Mr. Westerberg said. “The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve equality in the home. Getting fathers to share the parental leave is an essential part of that.”"

"Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Yet Sweden looks well balanced: at 2.1 percent and 40 percent of G.D.P., respectively, public deficit and debt levels are a fraction of those in most developed economies these days, testimony perhaps to fiscal management born of a banking crisis and recession in the 1990s. High productivity and political consensus keep the system going."
posted by VikingSword (42 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool. I get 3 days.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:02 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get no parental leave, as such. I can however take accrued "sick leave" in accordance with the FMLA. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to have had this option for the births of my children in a country as family-unfriendly as the US.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:12 PM on June 9, 2010


What do you mean, "family-unfriendly"? We're fighting gays and lesbians as hard as we can!
posted by Navelgazer at 8:14 PM on June 9, 2010 [29 favorites]


I can however take accrued "sick leave" in accordance with the FMLA.

I didn't even get that. I hadn't been with the company long enough to qualify for FMLA.
posted by lexicakes at 8:15 PM on June 9, 2010


I'd move to Sweden in a second (ignoring that they have no desire to have me there) other than given my complete lack of language skills would leave me mute the rest of my days.
posted by maxwelton at 8:19 PM on June 9, 2010


(As evidenced by my incomprehensible comment in my native tongue, above.)
posted by maxwelton at 8:20 PM on June 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


From the accompanying article on Bengt Westerberg, the "father of Sweden's father's leave":

Mr. Westerberg recalled a trip to the United States in the 1990s when he found himself arguing well to the left of the American Democrats he met.

“In Sweden I am on the right,” Mr. Westerberg said, “but in the United States, I’m considered a Communist.”


That about sums it all up right there.
posted by blucevalo at 8:22 PM on June 9, 2010 [53 favorites]


What's absurd is the incredible WASTE of human resources that results from such inflexible work standards here in the states.

Imagine the immense and immediate economic benefits of free, state-funded childcare facilities available for families with two parents employed full-time.

Imagine societal benefits from a greater ratio of women entering and rising in the workforce when the concept of a 'mommy-track' disappears under the societal presumption that EVERYONE gets (and wants) to spend time with their infant children.

But no, we can't have that in Usonia, because men are supposed to work, and women to stay home and never the twain shall meet.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


“In Sweden I am on the right,” Mr. Westerberg said, “but in the United States, I’m considered a Communist.”

by NZ standards, the US Democrats are moderately right wing on a lot of issues.

I remember reading somewhere (can only find the Wikipedia mention right now) that the US is one of only four countries without federally mandated paid maternity leave. Given that, paid paternity leave in the States is probably far in the distance.
posted by Paragon at 8:32 PM on June 9, 2010


Cultural standards on fatherhood are in such a tricky place in the US. On the one hand, there's a feminist or post-feminist drive to open up more career opportunities for women by forcing men to take on more of their responsibilities in the home. This is a good thing. On the other hand, there's a traditionalist backlash against the perceived loss of parental influence in the home. While an entirely horrid way of addressing it, this concern is somewhat legitimate - if women leave the home in droves and men fail to take on their responsibilities, then kids are probably underserved. What I haven't yet seen culturally is a strong multi-gendered movement to celebrate parenthood as a fulfilling thing in and of itself for men - at least, I haven't seen it outside the gay community.

The Swedes seem to have figured out that parenthood is a valuable and rewarding part of the human experience for both men and women - they're actually fighting for more time at home to take care of their kids. They've also left the "daddy daycare" jokes at the door. I wish we could do that in the US.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:50 PM on June 9, 2010


The article makes no other sensible linkages, but you could substitute NZ (or Australia, or Canada, or Denmark, or Germany, or France, or just about any other developed nation) for Sweden and have the same analogy apply just as equally.
posted by blucevalo at 8:50 PM on June 9, 2010


by NZ standards, the US Democrats are moderately right wing on a lot of issues.

I'm an American, and by my standards, US Democrats are moderately right wing on a lot of issues.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:50 PM on June 9, 2010 [23 favorites]


I'm an American, and by my standards, US Democrats are moderately right wing on a lot of issues.

My wife agrees with you - of course, she's from Hippie Central (SF North Bay) so that should come as no surprise.
posted by Paragon at 9:29 PM on June 9, 2010


I work for one of the few US companies that has decent paternity leave benefits and we worked out that with two wives and some close timing you could take the whole year off on paternity. No one has tried it yet.
posted by GuyZero at 9:39 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article isn't about the USA...


I wonder what role unions have in Sweden? Responsible for the 8 hour day, 40 hour week, etc etc in many countries.
posted by wilful at 10:02 PM on June 9, 2010


My wife agrees with you - of course, she's from Hippie Central (SF North Bay) so that should come as no surprise.

Yeah, I'm from a college town in Rhode Island, where the feminist art gallery is down the street from the co-op and the marijuana flows like water. It is kind of Hippie Central Part 2: The Didgeridoo-ing, so my views aren't really surprising.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 10:06 PM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


The problem in the US isn't necessarily strictly one of sexism. It's mainly one of enterprise-skewed capitalism*.

The issue is that our labor laws are enforced in such a way that the vast majority of salaried employees are (illegally) not paid overtime. As a result, people work longer hours here than in most of Europe. Furthermore, there is absolutely no mandate on vacation time. And, if you work hourly, god help you if you want some time off... in 95% of situations, that's just money out of your pocket.

And Americans accept this as normal and reasonable. To an extent, we even pride ourselves on it. I listened to some guy on the radio go on and on about how American workers' productivity numbers are on the rise. And then, pridefully, he explained that this meant Americans were harder working than workers in other countries, and that companies could expect more from Americans working for them. In the next breath, he mentioned that, adjusted for inflation, wages haven't risen since the 70's. I don't think it even computed to him that it might be unfair that we were doing more work for the same amount of money.

So, the very idea of giving anybody more than a few paid days off seems anathema to the majority of American business owners. The very idea of paying somebody who isn't producing anything for you sends their skin a-crawling. Especially given the turnover rates in the private sector, it doesn't even cross their mind not to simply replace somebody who needs some time to have a kid.

This is the country where, when I want to leave at 5:30 to have supper with my wife, I'm told I'm not a team player. I heard the same shit said to fathers who wanted to, for instance, go watch their kid play baseball. Employers have this twisted concept that the workplace should be the most important thing in your life. I've had people tell me they got fired for indicating otherwise at annual reviews.

Hell, I have a friend who was "promoted" a few months ago from art monkey to Art Department Manager, has to manage two other people, has all sorts of new responsibilities he hates, and works about 3 hours longer every day. He sees almost nothing of his wife anymore, and they've back-burnered plans for children. Total raise to compensate him for increased demands: $0.

Given how worker-hostile the US is, I can't see that paternity leave will ever take off in this country. Maternity leave might eventually be mandated consistently, if it can be argued as an equal protection issue. But I can't see mandatory paternity leave happening any time soon.

* The issue isn't, by the way, a free market of buying and selling and consumer goods. It's that the American capitalist system is so hugely skewed towards the interest of big business that it's lost all sight of the human element. Oh, I'm sorry, I meant its "human resources".
posted by Netzapper at 10:16 PM on June 9, 2010 [21 favorites]


If you could have the option to be paid while staying home, I'd be surprised anyone chose not to.
This would be awkward to work around for a lot of small businesses, though I suppose people manage to work out regular vacation time:

"Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly — a schedule that leaves particularly small, private employers scrambling to adapt."


I do wonder though, what the average Swede thinks about paying for all this. There must be a "Tea Party" opposition over there as well.
posted by madajb at 10:47 PM on June 9, 2010


There must be a "Tea Party" opposition over there as well.

Why?
posted by stinkycheese at 11:56 PM on June 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Norwegian system is quite similar: There is a choice of 46 weeks with full pay or 56 weeks with 80% pay. The three weeks immidiately before and after birth (or due date) is reserved for mom. The rest is split between the parents as they see fit, but there's a mandate that if dad (or "the other partner" in gay marriages) do not take 10 weeks off, those weeks are lost altogether. Here is a page in English from NAV, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration, about this. For those curious, NAV have a lot of other information about Norwegian labour laws available in English.

The only recent debate about this that I can remember is that the Conservative Party's (Wiki) women's group advocated not mandating any minimum leave for dad, leaving the distribution of leave totally up to the families (Norwegian-language article about this). This proposition did not gain much traction among politicians, but polls show a slight majority in favour.
posted by Harald74 at 12:14 AM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


There must be a "Tea Party" opposition over there as well.

There is no "Tea Party" equivalent in the Nordic countries, as far as I know.

The biggest political happening in Norway the recent months is the municipal employees' strike which was just ended. It started May 28th, was intensified on June 2nd, and took 45.000 municipal workers (sanitation, teachers, municipal kindergarden employees and others) off work. The cause was increased minimum wage and increased pay for those with lowest wages.

No political party in Parliament have any plans to privatise all health care, remove worker's benefits or dismantle the social security system. Not even the Conservatives.
posted by Harald74 at 12:32 AM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fascinating. I don't see that this issue is about men or women or workers (or tea parties or wages) ... it is about the welfare of children being essential to the welfare of all.

Why didn't they just title it something like, "Swedes Value Their Children and Share the Joy of the Early Years -- A Healthy Country Looks Back on Healthy Choices"
posted by Surfurrus at 12:57 AM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Uppity Pigeon #2: "Hippie Central Part 2: The Didgeridoo-ing"

Surely you mean "Hippie Central 2: Electric Didgeridoo".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:47 AM on June 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


One positive side-effect of these long maternity/parternity leaves is that they create a lots of entry positions for young people as maternity/paternity leave replacements. It is often easier to use the leave to train a novice with potential than to keep the position empty or to find someone equally competent for shorter period.
posted by Free word order! at 1:53 AM on June 10, 2010


There must be a "Tea Party" opposition over there as well.

Why?


I know it's difficult for us Americans to comprehend, but sometimes the default setting for humankind is not always "contrarian homophobic asshole". Maybe Sweden has discovered this.
posted by elizardbits at 3:18 AM on June 10, 2010 [20 favorites]


I don't see that this issue is about men or women or workers (or tea parties or wages) ... it is about the welfare of children being essential to the welfare of all.

Actually it is a result of policies to achieve gender equality.

i>Stressing gender equality rather than stating directly that it wants to boost birth rates, Sweden provides a mixed package of higher pay for women, flexible working for both parents and high quality childcare.

State-sponsored parental leave (‘föräldraledighet’) is arguably more generous in Sweden than anywhere else. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days paid leave per child, with both mothers and fathers entitled and encouraged to share the leave. The leave can be taken at any time until the child reaches the age of seven.

It is typical that both parents in a Swedish family work, at least part-time. Thus the state has made provision for this, and now nearly all Swedish children attend both daycare/nursery (förskolan, "dagis", age 1-5 years) and pre-school (förskoleklass, age 6 years). Dagis is available to all from the age of 12 months to 6 years, and opening hours are usually between 0700 and 1800.

Conventional economic theory predicts that increases in the wage rate of women lead to increases in women’s labor force participation on the one side (link to pdf file) , and decreases of fertility on the other side due to increased opportunity costs of children in combination with a low income elasticity of the number of children. This relationship has been translated into the hypothesis that total fertility and female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) should be inversely related in cross-country studies.

As a result of the parental leave and child care policies introduced in the 1970s, the Nordic countries have turned this on its head.

In 1975, countries with a high FLFPR, such as Sweden or Denmark, exhibited low fertility in a European comparison, while countries with low FLFPR, such as Italy or Spain, had relatively high fertility. In 1996, high FLFPR is associated with high fertility, such as in Denmark and Sweden, while lowest-low fertility countries such as Italy and Spain are characterized by a quite modest participation of women in the labor market.
posted by three blind mice at 3:36 AM on June 10, 2010



There must be a "Tea Party" opposition over there as well.

No, we treat our crazies with medication and therapy.
posted by Hastur at 3:58 AM on June 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Criticism from an academic specialising in women's employment: Sweden is not a great place to be a working parent.

* More rights for women mean less pay for women, as they are less valuable to employers and spend less time on their careers. So women in the US earn more and are more likely to reach senior positions than in Sweden.

* Women end up in the public sector, men in the private sector, so the taxpayer picks up the tab for these policies and women are excluded from exciting and profitable new areas of the economy.

This unpublished work, Parental Leave - A Policy Evaluation of the Swedish "Daddy-Month" Reform, suggests:

* State-mandated paternity leave does increase paternal time off, but after two it's largely at Christmas and in August - that is, it's used for holidays rather than childcare or housework. (Though the paper does not support the frequent assertion that paternal leave strangely corresponds with major sporting events!)

* Mothers took less time off when their benefits were reduced as part of the changes.

* In poor families there isn't much financial detriment with men taking time off, in rich families there is, because the paternity payment was capped, and patterns of time taken off followed this.

* The major benefit may be from convincing employers and men that the new "norm" is for men to take some time off, so both parties will acquiesce. Otherwise men will think they'll be seen as less committed to their work and employers will think they are less committed to their work.

More generally, support for women working and having children is a pro-natalist position. It produces more kids. If these policies are successful, you'll end with a rising First-World population, which has an enormous long-term negative environmental impact. Which you may think is fine (I do) but should be borne in mind if we're looking long-term.

Clearly we (in England) should be planning for a new Viking invasion in 500 years...
posted by alasdair at 4:02 AM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


why are they all so depressed?
posted by billybobtoo at 4:15 AM on June 10, 2010


Understanding what it is to be home with a child may help explain why divorce and separation rates in Sweden have dropped since 1995 — at a time when divorce rates elsewhere have risen, according to the national statistics office. When couples do divorce or separate, shared custody has increased.

I don't understand how they can mention this without noting that lots and lots of children are born out of wedlock, which isn't considered bad there, but still....it does affect the divorce rate.

Maybe the flexible working hours thing would work out more if the labor market were more flexible. I suspect the future involves having independent contractors on call.
posted by melissam at 5:21 AM on June 10, 2010


Ah, parental leave ... that's where I'm a viking!
posted by nonspecialist at 5:54 AM on June 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


billybobtoo: "why are they all so depressed?"

Because they're Swedes.
posted by pyrex at 7:16 AM on June 10, 2010


As someone who can't have a family, I must say, I like the United States' hostility towards families. I'd hate to pay for things like paternity leave. Rather just have cash.
posted by planet at 8:05 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd hate to pay for things like paternity leave. Rather just have cash.

Luckily, in America you have the option of not getting either!
posted by FatherDagon at 8:43 AM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I took 3 months of parental leave with my son... It works out all right in Canada, women get 17 weeks of maternity leave, then both parents can figure out how they want to split the other 35 weeks of leave between themselves.
posted by antifuse at 8:50 AM on June 10, 2010


As someone who can't have a family, I must say, I like the United States' hostility towards families. I'd hate to pay for things like paternity leave. Rather just have cash.

So you believe in Zero Poplulation Growth/eventual human extinction?

Because if you don't, what you're really saying is, hey, I know somebody has to pay the physical/financial price to keep the species going, but fuck 'em, I got mine!
posted by emjaybee at 9:14 AM on June 10, 2010


This policy would be great in America, but I think we definitely need to keep the name. I'd vote for Föräldraledighet, I mean look at all the umlauts! I'd also enjoy seeing Sarah Palin say it.
posted by Chipmazing at 10:03 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The left in Sweden thinks the results are not good enough yet, and wants to make the benifit fully individual, as in the mom and dad get one year each. Today, couples can divide most of the time as you see fit, and since the average man still earns more than the average woman, this often means the mom stays home longer than the dad. Which of course does nothing to level the salariers between men and women.

The right (in charge now) don't want this change.

Elections are coming up in September, btw, and is starting to look like a nailbiter.
posted by mr.marx at 10:12 AM on June 10, 2010


(ok more like 9 months each)
posted by mr.marx at 10:14 AM on June 10, 2010


I often joke with my American wife (UK here) about how she is "very welcome to our socialist paradise, comrade", especially when she's dealing with her friends back home getting by with ten days paid holiday a year that they're scared to take in case they get laid off.

Then I realise the Swedes make the UK look like America-lite. Oh to have an economy that wasn't three-quarters service-based.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:55 PM on June 10, 2010


maxwelton: "I'd move to Sweden in a second (ignoring that they have no desire to have me there) other than given my complete lack of language skills would leave me mute the rest of my days."

If you move here, you can get FREE (no, I'm not kidding) swedish courses, so that you don't have to be mute.
posted by beerbajay at 11:53 AM on June 11, 2010


Wait, Sweden wants their immigrants to learn the language... and they actually do more than macho lip service???
posted by symbioid at 7:25 AM on June 12, 2010


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