Fathers on Leave Alone in Switzerland: Agents of Social Change?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Isabel VALARINO, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Switzerland represents a unique case in the European landscape of leave policies. A minimal maternity insurance was implemented in 2005 and to this day, there is no statutory parental or paternity leave. This study uncovers the experience of pioneer fathers in Switzerland who nonetheless took leave in order to care alone for their child during at least one month. It analyzes the implications of leave uptake for fatherhood and gender equality, relying on 13 qualitative interviews conducted mainly in the French-speaking part of Switzerland.

Results show there are four different leave uptake situations. Firstly, men may take an unpaid parental leave in agreement with their employer or based on collective agreements. Secondly, companies may also have implemented a paid paternity leave, entailing job protection and salary payment. Thirdly, men may take leave in a more individualized way, for instance by making a career break. Fourthly they may benefit from unemployment insurance while caring for their children. Taking leave therefore almost always comes at a price, which explains why this is a rare phenomenon in Switzerland, observed mainly among well-educated and resourceful households.

Across these leave uptake situations, fathers report a positive as well as challenging experience during which they cared intensively for their children, yet mostly in a part-time manner. There is a mixed picture regarding the long-term implications for gender equality, as only about half of interviewees have adopted a gender equal division of paid and unpaid work. Finally, the study emphasizes the societal impact of men on leave alone in Switzerland. Because they embody involved fatherhood in public spaces and in work organizations, they can be viewed as agents of social change who redefine the cultural meaning of fatherhood.