Monocolumn: Left Holding The Baby

Until the 1970s, paternity leave was all but non-existent in Sweden. A general parental leave replaced maternity leave in 1974, but that year, only 562 brave dads took the chance to stay at home.

Monocolumn- Left Holding The Baby

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

I recently got back to work after having a baby in March. But while I’m typing on my laptop to earn money for food and toys (as one two-year-old relative put it), my little son is not taken care of by a nanny. He is with his father, who’s now taking time off his work as an architect for at least six months. A male friend of mine, an art designer, just finished his six months of paternity leave and at my daughter’s day care centre, a teacher-dad has stayed at home for a full year. In Sweden, tables have turned and these days, men have to do some explaining if they take no paternity leave at all.

Until the 1970s, paternity leave was all but non-existent in Sweden. A general parental leave replaced maternity leave in 1974, but that year, only 562 brave dads took the chance to stay at home. These pioneers were, mockingly, referred to as “velvet dads”. Last year, 44 per cent of Swedish dads took out at least some paternity leave. We’re still far from sharing parental leave 50/50 and a study by the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) recently predicted that it will take another 50 years before that happens. But the direction is right and currently the ratio is more or less 25/75.

Largely, this is the result of political decisions. In 1995, one month of the paid leave was allocated to the father, and another in 2002. (The entire leave is 13 months long with 80 per cent of your salary, and another three months with a lower payment.) The income limit for the benefit has been raised to meet men’s higher wages. And, due to political backing, employers no longer start sighing when a male employee tells them that he’s planning to stay at home with his child.

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