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Dads on equal footing with mums in Denmark’s new parental leave law

Dads on equal footing with mums in Denmark’s new parental leave law

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Mahmoud Al-Tamir - TV2 ØST

More gender equality in the labour market and more fathers on leave with small children. This is what Danish families can now look forward to after the government has given fathers nine extra weeks of earmarked paternity leave.

2 August 2022 became a day to remember for Jørgen Stensgaard Madsen, head of Metal Storstrøm, the Central and South Zealand chapter of the Danish Union of Metalworkers. His daughter and son-in-law gave him a grandson, Theodor, and on the same day, a new law on parental leave came into force which will greatly benefit Metal Storstrøm members, believes Jørgen Stensgaard Madsen. 

“My grandson was born a few hours after the law on earmarked paternity leave came into force, so the new law suddenly became very personal to me. Since Theodor was born after the law came into force, my daughter and son-in-law – and all other employees who have children from now on – will agree on the distribution of parental leave in light of an extra nine weeks of leave earmarked for the father.

Simon Larsen with baby

Simon Larsen and his girlfriend from Næstved are among the first parental couples with an equal share of parental leave.

“I believe this is a really good development,” says Jørgen Stensgaard Madsen.

The change to the law is an execution of EU rules and means that nine weeks out of the total parental leave period from now on is reserved for each of the parents. Either nine week period will be lost if it is not used before the child turns one. 

Until now, Danish fathers only had two weeks of earmarked parental leave after a child is born, when both parents are at home with the baby. Quite a few parents have chosen to use only these two earmarked weeks for the father while the mother takes the rest of the parental leave.

A nudge for fathers

This pattern is now expected to change. Granting fathers nine extra weeks of earmarked leave should give a considerable boost to the amount of time that fathers take out of the total parental leave period. Today, fathers on average take five weeks off. In a fresh survey from Egmont Fonden, seven in ten men aged 18 to 40 say they believe they will take the nine weeks that are now earmarked for fathers – partly because if they do not, the earmarked weeks will be lost. 

The earmarking is also an important signal to fathers that their time with their small child is important, thinks Jørgen Stensgaard Madsen

“When I had my own children, I took no leave. All I did was buy my colleagues a beer after work. I have regretted this bitterly because it meant that I never got really close to my children while they were little and they deserved to spend more time with me. But it was a different culture back then.” 

The Danish Union of Metalworkers organises qualified workers within manufacturing, mechanics and IT. It has many male members within trade and industry, where wages have traditionally been considered to be more important than parental leave. Jørgen Stensgaard Madsen expects that it will take a few years before all their members will make use of the earmarked weeks. But things are already changing, he believes.

“The new rule is a nudge for fathers to take time to be with their child, and as a union, we are following this up with an information campaign for our members where we make them aware that they can make use of the earmarked parental leave. I am certain that there will come a time when men take nine weeks off as a matter of fact – also among my members.”

Paid parental leave

Some families have chosen not to take paternity leave for economic reasons. In quite a few families the father earns more than the mother, and in workplaces that do not pay a full salary during parental leave, workers will get income maintenance – which is usually less than their pay package.

But some collective agreements already include provisions for full pay during parental leave, which would also cover the nine weeks that are now earmarked for fathers. Full pay is only possible when a worker has been employed for at least nine months at the time of the baby’s birth. 

Peter BøvingThe manufacturing corporation Emerson is part of the industrial agreement and has always followed the current agreement which has given its workers full pay during parental leave for a longer period of time. It is already a matter of course for the mainly male workers in the corporation’s two Danish departments to take parental leave to spend time with their child, so Emerson does not expect the new legislation to change things all that much, explains the head of HR Peter Bøving.

“We support the new legislation and already live up to what it intends to do. As a company, we wish to make it easy for our employees to take parental leave. Parental leave equals happy colleagues who can perform even better at work because they are not disappointed not to have spent enough time with their children.” 

He expects the change in legislation will help more men in the labour market in general to take more parental leave and thinks the earmarking of nine weeks for the father is an important tool.

“It is a good idea to earmark the leave to make more fathers take time off. This is a fantastic opportunity to spend time with your child, while the mother can get back to work.”

Good for gender equality

Both the Danish Trade Union Confederation (FH) and the Confederation of Danish Employers (DA) support the new earmarked parental leave. FH expects the new model will help prevent women from being disadvantaged in the labour market. So far, women have taken 90 % of parental leave, and this has an impact on their pay and opportunities, believes FH’s President Lizette Risgaard. 

“For decades, we have been talking about separate rights to parental leave for fathers. It benefits gender equality, fathers’ relationships with their children and the entire family,” Risgaard said earlier.  

But a cultural change is needed, thinks FH’s Vice President Majbrit Berlau.

Majbrit Berlau“We will work towards the cultural change which is needed to secure that all children and new fathers really do get to enjoy the benefits of this agreement. If more fathers are to take a larger chunk of parental leave, it will be necessary to change the current culture surrounding parental leave. Danish workplaces, health workers, grandparents, municipal support and even public toilets are all geared towards mothers taking parental leave,” commented Majbrit Belau. 

DA’s Deputy Director General Pernille Knudsen hopes the new law will help more women get back to work quicker.

“It supports a cultural change where mothers are given better chances to return quicker to work, which is also something companies want. It will become more natural for fathers to take a larger part of the total parental leave.” 



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New parental leave model and earmarked leave

Danish parents have 48 weeks of parental leave. The new law divides this equally between the parents so that each of them has 24 weeks’ leave after birth with parental leave pay – or their salary paid. 

Both parents have so far had the right to take two weeks of earmarked leave linked to the birth. If you are employed, you will get another nine earmarked weeks which must be used before the child turns one. 

If you do not use the earmarked weeks of leave, the parental leave pay stops. It is not possible to let the other parent use the earmarked weeks. 

From January 2024, new single parents will be allowed to give some of the parental leave to close family members. New LGBTQ+ families will be able to give parental leave weeks to a social parent, i.e. a parent who has daily responsibility for and takes care of the child.

Source:,, Egmont Fonden


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