Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Here in the U.S., we often hear of mothers taking paid or unpaid maternity leave after the birth of a child. In the case of paid maternity leave, it is supported by the mother’s employer as dictated by the company’s policies. Full or partial pay may come from “the employee’s own paid vacation and/or sick leave, or through temporary disability compensation program.”  It is not mandated by any federal law. (However in 2004 California became the first state to pass a Paid Family Leave Law, an employee-funded insurance program that will pay 55% of a worker’s wages to care for a new child or seriously ill family member.) [2,3]
While the discussion over whether federally-mandated, paid maternity leave should be implemented in this country would be interesting in and of itself, what I would actually like to draw your attention to is the concept of paid paternity leave; a policy where fathers can stay home, with or without the mother, to bond and care for their new child while still receiving a portion of their paycheck. Many fathers take some amount of time off of work for the new addition to their family, but some may find it astonishing to learn that many countries legally allow for paid paternity leave. In fact, countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway, and Sweden allow new fathers to stay home anywhere from 10 weeks to 18 months and receive a majority of their paycheck. This is in addition to a generous leave package for the mother.
The benefit is well used too. In Sweden, 85% of fathers take some time off to spend with their new children. This is a dramatic increase from only 6% in 1991. In Portugal, a weeklong paternity leave is mandatory. In 2007, Germany set aside two out of the 14 months of paid paternity leave for father which increased its usage from 3 to 20% by 2009.  Iceland’s program allows three months for the mother, three months for the father, and three months to split between the two parents.  Overall, taking paternity leave is more common in urban areas. 
Giving fathers (or mothers) the opportunity to take time off to spend with their children does not come cheaply however. Family-friendly Sweden’s taxes are 47% of GDP, slightly higher than the European Union’s average of 40%, and much higher than the U.S. number around 27%. 
Why such the generous benefit for paternal leave? Various European countries are using it as a tool to combat low birth rates.  Many would-be parents find it difficult to balance work and family life, and Nordic countries in particular use these social policies to make it easier for couple to have larger families. Known as the “Nordic model,” Norway and Sweden have total fertility rates (TFR) of 1.81 and 1.75,  respectively, much higher than those of southern European countries average of 1.3.  Germany has made several recent changes to its policies in support of families in order to combat its TFR of 1.37. Both mothers and fathers can stay at home with their newborn and received up to 65% of their monthly income.
Fertility Rates in Europe
There are of course other factors in this discussion of paid paternity leave and total fertility rates. Paternity leave is not only beneficial for fertility reasons. Research on paternity leave shows that it results in less domestic and child abuse. A father who is able to connect more with his child after birth develops a stronger attachment and is more likely to have greater long-term participation in his child’s life, resulting in greater health, emotional, and cognitive development.  Likewise, there are other issues that affect a county’s total fertility rate such as the availability and cost of daycare and women’s participation in the workplace.