Academic journal article Fathering

Is Fatherhood Becoming More Visible at Work? Trends in Corporate Support for Fathers Taking Parental Leave in Sweden

Academic journal article Fathering

Is Fatherhood Becoming More Visible at Work? Trends in Corporate Support for Fathers Taking Parental Leave in Sweden

Article excerpt

Swedish legislation grants fathers paid parental leave, but mothers still take the majority of leave days available. Workplace opposition is often cited for why men don't take more leave. This study analyzes trends in company support for fathers taking parental leave and explores possible correlates of corporate support. Over time, companies have become more supportive of fathers leavetaking, partly attributed to women's increased share of top management positions. However, the majority of companies are still unsupportive. Moreover, a class bias in support found to some extent in 1993 was more in evidence in 2006, with companies reporting that white-collar fathers receive more formal support from the company and more informal support from co-workers and managers than blue-collar fathers receive.

Keywords: parental leave, Sweden, fatherhood, employment

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Parental leave is now a legislated right for fathers in almost every industrialized society. However, there are only a few nations where it has the potential to move corporations toward a supportive culture that promotes work-family integration for men and women and parents' sharing early childcare. To realize this potential, parental leave must be a universal, individual, non-transferable right of fathers as well as mothers. Fathers must be encouraged to take leave and employers must be obligated to accommodate such leave. Parental leave must offer job protection, full benefits and substantial wage compensation as a symbol of its social value and to facilitate use by both parents. Lastly, it must be flexibly administered so parents can take turns, and take leave part- and full-time (Haas, 2003).

Sweden's parental leave program comes the closest to this ideal. Sweden was the first nation to offer fathers paid parental leave, in 1974. As early as 1977, the National Labor Market Board stated, "The right for men to take responsibility for their children on the same basis as women must be accepted and encouraged" (Arbetsmarknadsstyrelsen, 1977). Sweden was the second nation (after Norway, in 1995) to provide fathers with non-transferable rights to paid parental leave. Currently, legislation grants fathers as well as mothers the right to two non-transferable months of leave, paid at 80 percent of salary up to an income ceiling (approximately $54,000 in 2007), that can be taken anytime until a child starts school; couples also have an additional nine highly compensated months of leave to divide up between themselves as they choose (Haas, Chronholm, & Hwang, 2008). The Swedish government has been extraordinarily active in promoting fathers' use of parental leave since men were extended the right in 1974. According to Klinth (2008), recent publicity efforts promote a more radical shared responsibility of men for childcare (rather than freedom of choice). There is intense international interest in Sweden's parental leave program because of its potential to undermine the gendered linkages between family and work and enhance the participation of fathers in childcare.

Despite its potential, the program has not met the policymaking goal of fathers taking as much parental leave as mothers. Although most (90%) fathers take parental leave, in 2007 mothers still took 79 percent of all days taken (Haas et al, 2008). Most research on the barriers to men taking leave focuses on what keeps individual men from taking more leave (Statens Offentliga Utredningar [SOU], 2005). Following the social constructionist perspective on gender, our research has focused instead on the social conditions that discourage men as a group from sharing leave more equitably. A gender lens on fatherhood and work emphasizes how men's private choices about how much leave to take are affected by social arrangements over which they have only limited control, such as the traditional organizational culture prevalent in large, profit-seeking companies.

The primary purpose of this article is to report the results of an investigation into trends in the levels of corporate support for fathers taking parental leave in Sweden. …

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