Iceland’s ‘Daddy Leave’ Shows a New Path Forward

What Women Really Think
April 3 2013 1:17 PM

How Should Parental Leave Be Structured? Ask Iceland.

148502364
Parental leave quotas have long-term effects on how men and women share household and childcare duties

Photo by ANA AREVALO/AFP/GettyImages

As I wrote here last week, recent research suggests that family-friendly policies, which do a great job of keeping women in the workforce in some capacity, can also have the unintended consequence of shuffling women into the kinds of “mommy-track” jobs that don’t come with a corner office.

Parental leave is a particularly tough nut to crack: Too little leave, and women may quit, overwhelmed by the challenges of parenting a newborn and working full-time. But too much leave may lower women’s earnings in the long-term. 

Advertisement

“If the family leave gets very long and very extended, then it may encourage women to stay out longer than they otherwise would have,” explained economist Francine Blau when I interviewed her for last week’s article. “And that can have negative effects on their wages and occupational advancement.”

Catherine Rampell, in a column about parental leave for next weekend’s New York Times Magazine, makes a strong case for destigmatizing paternity leave through the kind of “use-it-or-lose-it” policies that some European countries have been experimenting with.

While Sweden was the first country to introduce “daddy leave” in the form of a non-transferable month of paternity leave in 1995, tiny Iceland is actually at the forefront of this movement.

“[In 2000], Iceland basically said ‘Break the whole thing up, just give them equal, independent rights–because this shareable thing isn’t working,” explained economist Janet Gornick when I spoke to her last month.  The country passed a law that granted three months of non-transferable parental leave to both mothers and fathers; an additional three months of leave was granted to the couple to share as they chose.

By most measures, the law was a rousing success.  About 90 percent of Icelandic fathers take leave.  In 2007 (the most recent year for which I’ve found data), fathers in Iceland took 101 days of parental leave—almost exactly 1/3 of the family’s total benefit days.  A 2012 report on gender equality in the country found that the policy resulted in closer father/child relationships and more equality between men and women at work.

The law was such a success that Iceland recently went a few steps further with a 5-2-5 policy: Mothers and fathers will soon each be entitled to five months of non-transferable leave, with an additional two months of shared leave.

The reform is good news for gender equality in Iceland. Rampell offers up evidence that parental leave quotas have long-term effects on how men and women share household and childcare duties:

A striking new study by a Cornell graduate student, Ankita Patnaik, based on a new paid paternity-leave quota in Quebec, found that parents’ time use changed significantly. Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work—particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours—than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.
 

Rampell suggests that having dad at home early on may serve to “alter expectations and habits” in the long-term, a theory which makes perfect sense to me.  I took four months off after the birth of my daughter before returning to work part-time; my husband took a week off.  Even now, two years later, I still see the effects of those early months in ways large and small—it’s hard to argue that my husband should pack the diaper bag when I’m indisputably better at squeezing in that last bag of Cheerios, thanks to all those extra months of practice. Old habits—and entrenched social norms—die hard.

In fact, even idyllic Iceland, which ranked number 1 in The World Economic Forum’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, hasn’t figured out total equality. Icelandic women are underrepresented in management positions, and a gender wage gap persists in the country.  Perhaps this is because, while Icelandic fathers happily take the non-transferable portion of their parental leave, they take virtually none of the shared leave, which means women still spend more time at home during their children’s early years.

Maybe it’s time for a 6-6 policy?

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?