Responses to Changing Parental Leave Policies in Sweden and the UK

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Gayle KAUFMAN, Davidson College, USA
Anna-Lena ALMQVIST, Malardalen University, Sweden
This paper compares the perceptions and experiences of British and Swedish parents following major parental leave policy changes in their respective countries. Sweden has been long known for its early introduction of parental leave in the 1970s and their introduction of a non-transferable ‘daddy month’ in 1995, which was extended to two months in 2002. The UK, on the other hand, lagged behind throughout the late 20th century. By 2010 the UK policy continued to reflect a strong male breadwinner model with 52 weeks of maternity leave and only 2 weeks of paternity leave. In 2011, the UK introduced Additional Paternity Leave, which extended leave up to 26 weeks. Our study examines parental leave decisions and perceived workplace support following the changes in policy. We draw on data from 32 interviews with Swedish parents conducted in 2008 after introduction of the second ‘daddy month’ and 22 interviews with British parents conducted in 2012 after introduction of Additional Paternity Leave. Not surprisingly, our findings show that Swedish fathers, particularly those whose partners were work or study oriented, took longer leave than British fathers. Nevertheless, there remain some gender differences as Swedish men are more concerned about their employer’s and work mates’ opinion than Swedish women. British parents cite low benefit, gendered expectations, employer assumptions regarding maternity versus paternity leave, and limitations to the policy. We conclude that Sweden’s non-transferable paid parental leave policy promotes more gender equitable work-life balance arrangements. This should be further supported with the planned extension of non-transferable leave to three months in 2016. While the UK’s recent introduction of shared parental leave in 2015 is a step in the right direction, we expect the large historical imbalance in leave taking between British men and women would benefit from introducing non-transferable paid paternity leave.