Doing Fatherhood: Understanding the Gendered Use of Parental Leave in Finland

By Lammi-Taskula, Johanna | Fathering, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Doing Fatherhood: Understanding the Gendered Use of Parental Leave in Finland


Lammi-Taskula, Johanna, Fathering


In families with young children, parental practices are usually gendered: mothers do more unpaid care work, while fathers spend more time in paid employment. Recent efforts in the Nordic countries to promote equal sharing of childcare responsibility between parents have resulted in increases of fathers' take-up of parental leave. Fathers in Finland are less likely to take leaves when compared to fathers in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Using survey data collected in 2001 from 1371 fathers who had children born in 1999, the take-up of parental leave by fathers in heterosexual families in Finland was analysed. The parents' reports suggested that the division of labour in families was negotiated between socio-economic rationality and prevailing ideologies of motherhood, fatherhood, and gender equality. Two aspects were significant for the likelihood of fathers' sharing parental leave with mothers: the mother's position in the labour market and gender ideology related to care and breadwinning responsibilities.

Keywords: parental leave, fathers, mothers, gender, Finland

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The division of labour between women and men-who does what and how often--is "doing gender" in practice. A lot of active doing is involved in producing gender in everyday life; in organizing one's activities according to what is understood as appropriate for one's sex category (West & Zimmerman, 2002, pp. 4-5). Women with children are doing motherhood as they make choices or compromises in various spheres of their life, especially in family life and in the labour market. Similarly, men with children are doing fatherhood among mutually supportive and conflicting expectations, rules, obligations, and rights (Alvesson & Due Billing, 1999; Rantalaiho, 1997).

Individual men and women are doing gender in a particular social and cultural context. The circumstances of doing fatherhood and motherhood are characterized by time and place, which also includes religious, economic, and political influences (Connell, 1995). Thus, gender relations are not fixed; new ways of interaction can be negotiated and expectations redefined (Risman, 1998).

This article reports findings from a study that explores the gendered take-up of parental leave between mothers and fathers of young children in Finland. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Recommendation, the term "parental leave" refers to "the leave granted to fathers and mothers ... to enable parents in employment to look after their newborn child for a certain time, whilst giving them some degree of security in respect of employment, social security and remuneration" (Moss & Deven, 1999, p. 3). While most European Union member states today provide statutory parental leave, the Nordic countries were forerunners, establishing parental leave in the 1970s. The primary aim of the Nordic parental support developments has been to promote gender equality by creating a social environment where women and men have the same access to vocational, familial, and personal fulfilment (O'Brien, 2004).

Although parental leave is an established institution in the Nordic countries, it has been mainly taken by mothers. During the past decade, fatherhood has been a focus area in the development of parental leave institutions. Individual and non-transferable leave rights for fathers have been developed in order to encourage more men to take parental leave (Haataja, 2004; Hobson, 2002; O'Brien, 2004). The introduction of the father's quota in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland has resulted in higher numbers of take-up by fathers, and increased the sharing of parental leave between fathers and mothers outside the quota (Brandth & Kvande, 2003; Gislason, 2004; Nyman & Petterson, 2002).

Despite women's high education levels and labour market participation rates, the possibilities and practices of sharing parental leave between mothers and fathers have not developed as rapidly in Finland as in the other Nordic countries. …

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