Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Changes in Gender Equality? Swedish Fathers' Parental Leave, Division of Childcare and Housework

Academic journal article Journal of Family Studies

Changes in Gender Equality? Swedish Fathers' Parental Leave, Division of Childcare and Housework

Article excerpt

Abstract: Sweden is well known for its family policy and this study explores whether fathers' parental leave is related to later division of childcare and housework. Two materials were used; a panel survey (2003, 2009) and an interviewstudy (2008). Respondents in the survey had their first child between the waves and the interview-study focused on parents of 2-3 year olds. The survey is analyzed by logistic regression and the interviews by grounded theory. The results indicate that when fathers took long leave parents shared both household tasks and childcare more equally after the leave. Higher expectations of sharing childcare is related to a higher share of divided childcare once becoming parents, although it seems that some tasks are more often shared than others. When the father took long leave both parents mention that the child relates to the father as much as the mother in everyday life.

Keywords: childcare, fathers, gender equality, housework, parental leave, Sweden


In Sweden, the division of parental leave is one of the most quoted indicators of gender equality. The political goal of gender equality is closely connected to family policy and a number of reforms have aimed at increasing fathers' uptake of parental leave. An equal division of leave is thought to change not just the division of childcare but also housework, and to have positive effects on gender equality in the labor market, by strengthening women's position in relation to men's (Swedish Government, 2011). Indeed, it seems that the parental leave system has been successful in bringing fathers into the child's early years. Since the 1970s fathers have taken an increasing share of parental leave, with the current figure standing at almost 25% (Swedish Social Insurance Agency, 2013). However, women still take the major share of childcare and often work part-time during the child's preschool years. The division of parental leave is often considered a private decision, and there has been heated political debate regarding the so called father's quota, two non-transferable months to each parent in the parental benefit (Cedstrand, 2011). Is it then possible to relate the increase in fathers' leave to other aspects of gender equality as well? These aspects may range between women's situation and position in the labor market to division of household tasks in the family.

The overarching question is whether fathers' length of parental leave is related to other aspects of gender equality. More specifically, is fathers' long parental leave associated with subsequent gender equality in childcare and housework? We focus on how the division of childcare and housework is divided before, during and after parental leave, as well as how the responsibility for housework is perceived and divided. There are obviously many dimensions to the relationship between gender equality and parental leave and this study will contribute with a more nuanced and deeper understanding of the relationship between the two, rather than give causal explanations. To achieve an improved understanding of the relationship we have combined survey data with semi-structured interviews. The study reflects the situation in Sweden but will have implications for the general understanding of how parental leave and gender equality is related.


Sweden stands out as a country with an exceptionally generous and gender egalitarian parental leave policy (Ray, Gornick, & Schmitt, 2010). The introduction in 1974 of a parental leave that could be divided between the parents was an important factor in changing Sweden from a system of single-earner families to dual-earner families, today often termed earner-carer families (Gornick & Meyers, 2008). Other important changes at the time were the individual taxation and somewhat later a progressive expansion of publicly financed daycare (Ferrarini & Duvander, 2010). …

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