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Parental Leave

Gender Equality Bonus - "Ineffectual"

Published tisdag 23 mars 2010 kl 20.12
Parents and their children at a daycare in Stockholm

It was supposed to encourage fathers to share the parental leave more equally with the mothers. But the Government's "gender equality bonus" has had no effect whatsoever, according to a review made by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency.

The Swedish parental leave is one of the most generous in the world, with 16 months paid leave that can be shared by the father and the mother. Each parent has got the right to half of the parental leave, but can transfer some of it to the other parent.

Two months, or 60 days, are earmarked for the mother and two months are earmarked for the father - and cannot be transferred.

Yet, the Swedish fathers still only take out just over 22 per cent of the parental leave. Both the centre right Swedish government and the red green opposition would like the more fathers take a larger share of the parental leave. The question is how this should happen.

In the summer of 2008, the government introduced a "gender equality bonus", which would give an economic incentive to divide the parental leave more equally. With women generally still earning less than men, the idea was that a bonus would soften any blow to the household income, that comes when the often higher-earning father stays at home with the child.

At most, a bonus of 1,900 US dollars can be awarded a family which shares the leave equally.

A year and a half after the bonus was introduced, the verdict - according to a review made by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency - is clear. The bonus has not helped at all.

Out of 8000 families, where half had a child born before the bonus was introduced, and half was born after, no difference could be seen between those eligible to the bonus and those who were not. In the first 18 months of the child's life, the fathers took out approximately 44 days of parental leave, while the mothers took 250 days.

But Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt defends the bonus. "If this does not work as the carrot we intended, I am prepared to make it easier as well as strengthening the effect, because fundamentally, I think the bonus is needed," he says.

Mats Johansson at the Swedish Social Insurance Agency says there could be several possible reasons for the failure of the bonus. It could be because the rules for the bonus are relatively complicated and it gives relatively little money. People also have to wait for the money a long time which could mean parents think it is too complicated.

But another explanation could be that economic incentives is just one of the explanation for the division of the parental leave. Attitudes at home and in the work place, plays a role when it comes to how the leave is divided, says Mats Johansson.

He also points out that earlier studies have shown that fathers take out a larger part of the parental leave in couples with higher education levels. And of course, the gender-equality bonus does not address these issues, says Mats Johansson.

But for prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, this is also a question of ideology. "We have to discuss with Social Insurance Agency if all the forms really are necessary or if there is a way to simplify the process, or if information campaigns are needed so people know this possibility exists. The alternative is the red-green idea where you divide the parental leave by force, and I think that restricts people's freedom and their possibility to decide over their own lives. I believe more in carrots," says Fredrik Reinfeldt.

The response from the leader of the Social Democratic opposition party, Mona Sahlin, came quickly. "It seems that no one really wants to eat these particular carrots, because hardly anyone have applied for them," she says.

Instead Sahlin and the other parties in the red green coalition want to increase the ear-marked months, so that a third goes to the mother, a third to the father, and then a third can be transferred between the two.

The response from the leader of the Social Democratic opposition party, Mona Sahlin, came quickly. "It seems that no one really wants to eat these particular carrots, because hardly anyone have applied for them," she says.

 Instead Sahlin and the other parties in the red green coalition want to increase the ear-marked months, so that a third goes to the mother, a third to the father, and then a third can be transferred between the two.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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