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Dad culture in Sweden

This is a good example of how policy can drive culture, or maybe how policy can suppress culture. It's possible that American dads very much want to take time off to be with their children, but there's no policy support for them to do it.

If you had asked me in, say, 2001, if I would ever take a long paternity leave, I would have answered, "Yeah, sure," because I was a liberal guy — but then ignored my own answer because I was also an ambitious, career-driven type. Then I married a Swede, and we moved to a small town outside New York City that was close to no family or friends. Out of necessity, and my wife's Swedish expectations, I got deeply involved in our upcoming baby's life, though probably still no more than many American dads-to-be. We had a rough ride. My wife had bad doctors and a bad back, and we lived in a house covered with lead paint and infested with bats, rats, and bedbugs. It all began to seem overwhelming. In the end, almost more than my wife, I pushed for the move to Sweden, to the promise of parental leave, shorter work days, five weeks of vacation, and unlimited paid sick days if your kid falls ill.[...]

Over the past 15 years, the streets of Stockholm have filled up with men pushing strollers. In 1995, dads took only 6 percent of Sweden's allotted 480 days of parental leave per child. Then the Swedish government set aside 30 leave days for fathers only. In 2002 the state doubled the "daddy only" days to 60 and later added an "equality bonus" for couples that split their leave. Now more than 80 percent of fathers take some leave, adding up to almost a quarter of all leave days. So in the middle of, say, a Monday afternoon in March, the daddies and their strollers come at you both singly and in waves, the men usually either striding fast and stone-faced or pushing the stroller nonchalantly with one hand, cellphone glued to their ear.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 31, 2010; 2:22 PM ET
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CEPR brings the graph on parental leave as well :

This report examines the parental leave policies in 21 high-income nations and identifies five "best practices" for parental leave policies. The study shows that the U.S. has the least generous leave policies of the 21 countries examined in the report. The states exhibiting the five best practices include Finland, France, Greece, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.

Posted by: nwoo | August 31, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

US culture can accept a guy taking two weeks, not two months, and even then "paternity leave" means working from home part of the time.

If a guy expects to take two months out of the office for paternity leave and not expect negative consequences politically he is crazy.

And no, I do not believe making 60 days a law will change that.

Posted by: sold2u | August 31, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

The main issue is current US culture actively denigrates fatherhood, from all sides. In the media, no father figures come to mind that reflect responsible parenting and commercials treat any man who's a father as borderline animalistic in intelligence and behavior. Companies didn't integrate women into the workforce by raising all boats, they underpaid women, then lowered the wages for men/fathers to match. I agree with commenter 'sold2u', who understands a comment one of my wife's former bosses made about, "I'd have to seriously question promoting any married man who put his kids before his career."

I've also had to painfully watch several male friends make the choice to be the custodial parent in their marriage. Most stay-at-home moms treat them as invading foreigners at the park and their working wives think they should fulfill the grossest stereotypes of the cleaner/cook/mother, and rebuild the house at the same time. The sexual revolution started in the US by opening up society for women to explore whatever roles they chose, but the real test is valuing all the roles in our society, regardless of which gender is performing them.

Posted by: Jaycal | August 31, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

I've tried giving unlimited paid sick time at my company. It worked for a while, but was so abused I couldn't afford it (without lowering pay to account for the loss in revenue). There are a lot of benefit maximizers out clipper types, people who get as much health care as possible because they're "paying for it" and the marginal cost is low. People who take the "time off" and try to make money on the side.

I don't think sex focused leave policy is a good thing at all as a government policy though. First off, a lot kids don't have two parents, so keeping the total time the same but increasing the dad only fraction would hurt some people. I wouldn't have taken the time off because my wife wanted to stop working for a few years and we would have just been paying for the other people that didn't make that choice.

Posted by: staticvars | August 31, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

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