Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

European Men's Use of Parental Leave and Their Involvement in Child Care and Housework

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

European Men's Use of Parental Leave and Their Involvement in Child Care and Housework

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Although parental leave has long formed part of traditional labor relations, it was not until the nineteen seventies that it began to be regarded in some Scandinavian countries as a way of balancing work and family life as well as of enhancing gender equality (Duvander, Lappegard, and Andersson 2010; Escobedo, Flaquer, andNavarro, 2012; Lappegard, 2008). That egalitarian aspiration was consolidated by extending what were initially women's-only leaves to men, considering part of the leave as a family right where parents could decide who and for how long each of them would take leave to care for their children. In 1974, Sweden introduced 6-month gender-neutral paid leave for parents of newborns, while in 1978 Norway established a similar 18-week leave.

Leave lengths were subsequently extended in Sweden to 15 months in 1989 and 16 in 2002 and in Norway to 12 months in 1993 and 13 in 2009 (Duvander, Lappegard, and Andersson, 2010). Since freedom of choice did not translate into men's use of parental leave, however, specific incentives, such as the "father quota", began to be designed in the nineteen nineties (Lammi-Taskula, 2008; Lappegard, 2008; O'Brien, Brandth, and Kvande, 2007). In 1993 Norway included a one-month father's quota as part of the leave, which if not used would be forfeited, inasmuch as it was not transferable to his partner. That quota, amounting to 80% of the recipient's salary, was extended to 10 weeks in 2009. Sweden followed suit with its own month-long father's quota in 1995, extended to two months in 2002, likewise at a high rate of the salary (Duvander, Lappegard, and Andersson, 2010). Such measures aim to defeminize the use of parental leaves and equalize men's and women's opportunities to ensure that maternity and the use of parental leave as a resource for balancing work and family life does not translate into labor market discrimination (Burgess, Gregg, Propper, and Washbrook, 2007; Haas andRosgaard,2011).

Similar measures were subsequently adopted in other European countries in an attempt to foster men's involvement in parental leaves. Some countries made radical changes in their leaves for parents of newborns, replacing maternity leave with leaves that envisage gender' institution of more family-friendly workplaces. The furtherance of paternity leave is also assumed to encourage fathers' socialization as care providers. During such leaves, fathers not only become involved in instrumental tasks, but also emotionally involved with their children, laying the groundwork for greater dedication to subsequent child development (Haas and Hwang 2008; Tanaka and Waldfogel, 2007). With men taking longer leave, the share of leave taken by the two parents is more egalitarian, and the time during which fathers are solely responsible for childcare while their partners engage in paid work is likewise lengthened. Beyond fostering greater gender equality, fathers' greater involvement in childcare is also regarded to be to the benefit of both the children and the fathers themselves, thus improving their quality of life (Haas and Hwang, 2008; O'Brien, Brandth and Kvande, 2007).

Much ofthe research on the use of parental leave by men has focused on three questions. The first is: if the institution ofthe father's quota has actually fostered men's use of parental leave, what factors further or hinder its use? The second: to what extent do men and women share parental leave equally? And the third: which features of parental leave favor its wider use by fathers? (see, for example, Duvander and Johansson, 2012; Haas and Rosgaard, 2011; OECD, 2011). One of the assumptions on which much of this research is based is that greater use of leave by men translates into their greater involvement in unpaid household work, particularly in childcare. However, a growing body of research has specifically addressed the question of whether men's use of parental leave has really translated into their greater involvement in such unpaid work. …

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