The birth of a child is a special occasion, but for many people around the world, it’s an event that can be incredibly stressful given the difficulty of balancing work with raising a child.
There was a time when the issue was solved by expecting women to stay at home and care for the child while the father put in extra work to pay for the new mouth to feed but today’s increasingly egalitarian societies are working for more equitable solutions.
The nation of Sweden is already one of the most generous nations in terms of leave offered for new children. New parents already get 480 days off for the birth of each new child.
These days can be split between parents as they see fit, with each taking 240 days or with a more unequal split if one parent is more interested in staying home. But no parent can take more than 390 days, leaving a 90 day minimum per parent that can be forfeited if the parent doesn’t decide to take all of the days off.
It should be noted that the program isn’t as simple as getting all your leave paid by fellow taxpayers. The money does come from the government, but then it only pays out 80% of the salary at the time of the birth, so it’s like taking a 20% pay cut.
This is still incredibly generous, but it means that this can put some strain on higher earning parents, who might feel obligated to give the days to their partner to try and maximize earning potential.
The Swedish researchers responsible for the new report believe that the system, despite its good intentions, has helped to foster inequality.
They found that women tend to take more time off while men feel like they should take the minimum. If the minimum was taken from 90 to 150 days, this would still leave a 150-330 day gap, but it would help to encourage more equality between partners.
There is also a push for parental leave for unmarried couples. Many Swedes who act as parents are not allowed to take time off under the government system because they aren’t technically the legal parents of the children that they are helping to raise.
While the plan sounds very attractive to many Swedish parents and social scientists, there is also opposition.
Sweden already has some of the most generous family leave programs in Europe, and there are some who question the value of expanding its reach. The political parties in favor of these reforms are in the minority at the time of writing and may have a difficult time getting these plans turned into laws.
There’s no way to say for sure what the future holds, but many look to Sweden as a sign of things to come.
As raising a child becomes more expensive and birthrates sink below replacement levels more and more governments are going to look for steps to help and encourage their citizens to have children.
It will be interesting to see which nations follow in Sweden’s footsteps and how Sweden moves forward with its own policies.