(Un)equal parenthood

Sweden is one of the world’s most equal countries, but we still have a long way to go. Income differences between men and women still remain, fewer women hold positions of power in the political and business sectors, fathers only take about one third of the legally established parental leave, and unpaid work in the home is still carried out more by women than men. At the same time, tens of thousands of women in Sweden suffer men’s violence every year. Sharing parenthood equally is an important part of the effort to create an equal society without violence.

In Sweden, as the first country in the world, it became possible for both parents to receive financial compensation for staying at home and caring for their children when parental insurance was introduced in 1974. Statistics show that mothers took 99.5% of all parental leave days in 1974, while fathers took just 0.5% of the days in the same year.

We are making progress, but slowly. To encourage more couples to share the responsibility for the children, the government changed the rules for parental insurance in 1995, with the introduction of the “dad month”. One full month of parental leave benefits was earmarked for each parent. Since then, more months have been added, so that currently three months are reserved for each parent, which has clearly contributed to more men taking paternity leave. To introduce earmarked time for fathers has been a game changer. In 2020, about 70% of parental leave days were taken by mothers and 30% by fathers.

But even if more men do take parental leave today, it is a problem that men do so on their own terms to a greater degree than women. Men often take shorter, more intermittent leaves than women do, for example in connection with holidays. During the child’s first two years, 80% of parental leave is still taken by mothers and 20% by fathers.

This imbalance in the application of parental leave affects our pay rate, which jobs we can take and how much we can work. Which translates into how much income we make during a large portion of our lives, and therefore our pensions. This inequality in which women are forced to bear a heavier burden also affects familial relationships and women’s health. Studies show that women have equally good health as men until their first child arrives, but afterwards, women take out twice as much sick leave. This lasts for at least the first 18 years, as long as the child is still legally a child. For every month that a father takes out parental leave, the mother’s future income increases by 7%. This means that if we change fathers’ use of the parental insurance, we can improve women’s health and financial situation.

MÄN promotes equal parenting in part by supporting fathers in their parental role through fathers’ groups, both nationally and internationally. We also offer lectures, workshops and training courses for healthcare staff and organisations that provide parental support. Read more about our work for equal parenthood here.

Photo: Johan Bävman, 'Swedish dads'