Paternity Leave in the European Union ec.europa.eu
Should the EU do more to encourage men to take paternity leave?

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of men taking paternity leave in several countries within the European Union. Nevertheless this number remains very low in comparison to the amount of women going on maternity leave. Currently all EU member states have a parental leave policy in place for fathers, but the way these systems work differs widely from one country to another.

While presently there does not exist any wide-ranging comparative study about paternity leave at the EU level, much can be derived from studying sources of data collected from national agencies. The European Union agency Eurofound recently published some of this data in a report issued at the beginning of the year.

In the Czech Republic men are able to take as much parental leave as women are. But despite this fact men only represent 1.8% of parental leave-takers. This rate has not changed much during the past couple of years. Men are also eligible to take leave of up to 22 weeks after the birth of their child.

The take-up rate among fathers in Estonia has been steadily increasing since 2008, when a new compensation scheme was introduced. Men accounted for 2% of the parental leave then. The latest data from 2013 showed a rate of 6.5%.

In the Netherlands less than 10% of fathers took paternity leave in 2001, by 2013 this had noticeably increased to 24%. In Sweden a similar trend could be found as well. In 2013 men represented 24.8% of parental leave measured in days. This rate had doubled since the year 2000.

While some of these statistics indicate that several countries are moving towards a more equal parental leave, there is still a lot more that needs to be done if more men are going to be induced to take paternity leave. There are of course several reasons to why some EU countries have been more successful than others in increasing their take-up rates, and this has mainly come down to providing fathers with beneficial incentives. Cash bonuses or extra leave of days granted to parents who share parental leave have been some of them. In other cases a portion of the parental leave has been reserved exclusively for fathers, otherwise to be lost if not used.

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Paternity leave in the European Union, February 2015, epthinktank.eu

In terms of progressive policies for paternity leave, Sweden is one of the countries which is very often mentioned as a prime example of this. About 40 years ago the country was the first in the world to introduce a paid parental leave allowance with no regard to gender. The scheme involved paying 90% of salary for 180 days per child. The parents could then divide the days between them as they wished. Unfortunately the new policy did not result in a surge of men taking parental leave. In its first year of induction men took only 0.5% of all parental leave.

Today, the situation is completely different. As we previously mentioned the current rate is at 24.8%. Several factors have played a role in this recent boost of numbers. The first reason being the increase of paid leave days from 180 to 480 days. There has also been a more equal share of the allowance between parents. The first so called “daddy-month” was introduced in 1995. With the new reform, families would receive an extra month to add to their allowance, if each parent acquired at least one month of leave. As late as 2002 the policy was expanded to two months instead of one.

Similar parental leave schemes for fathers have been adopted in other EU countries as well.; Germany did just that in 2007. Within two years the take-up rate for fathers who took paid leave increased from 3% to 20%. In other countries like Portugal and Belgium there are certain aspects of parental leave which are exclusively reserved for fathers. As a result it has been easier for men in these countries to justify taking them.

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Maternity leave in the European Union, February 2015, epthinktank.eu 

It seems as if the more appealing the policies are in terms of compensation, duration and flexibility the more persuaded men are to take out parental leave. If we continue on this path to a more equal parental leave, this could only further contribute to positive effects for women in the workforce. 

Very often women have to put their careers on hold or work part-time to take care of their children, while men continue to work full time and progress in their careers. Even when men have showed a genuine interest in taking parental leave, the lack of flexible and practical policies has made it next to impossible for some to combine it with their work-life balance. For the near future it will definitely be interesting to see where the EU countries go from here and the impact it will no doubt have on equality between men and women.