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Danish parents want Swedish part time conditions

Danish parents want Swedish part time conditions

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Lars Bertelsen

The Danish gender equality debate is on fire. A large majority of Danes think parents of small children should have a right to work part time, but the trade unions, the government and feminists disagree.

The Danish gender equality debate has caught fire and has become sharper in the wake of a recent article in a national weekly, where a well-educated mother said she chose to quit her full time job. Now she only works ten hours a week in order to have the freedom to fetch her four year old daughter early from nursery.

Her story gave rise to a heated media debate about her choice, and about whether parents of small children should be given the same rights as Swedish parents who have the right to go part time while the children are small. Yes, think nearly three in four Danes. No, says the government, trade union movement and feminists, while disagreeing on the reason why part time work is a bad idea.

In a European context quite a few Danes work part time, according to numbers from Statistics Denmark, but they are dependent on the acceptance from the employer, and that is not good enough for today’s busy families, argue many Danes. Seven in ten want to give parents the legal right to go part time, like the case is in Sweden, where parents of children younger than eight have had the right to go part time if they want to since 1995.  

A no from the government

According to an opinion poll commissioned by the trade magazine of the Danish Association of Masters and PhDs, 71 percent of Danes agree or largely agree that parents of young children should have the right to go part time. Only 10 percent disagree while 13 percent largely disagree that part time work should be a right when you have younger children. The magazine also asked whether Danes want nurseries to extend their opening hours. 68 percent answered yes.

This desire for part time work is not being welcomed by the government. Both the Minister for Employment Jørn Neergaard Larsen (the Liberal Party) and his party colleague, the Minister for Children, Education and Gender Equality Ellen Trane Nørby, have made it abundantly clear that they will not work to give families a right to shorter working hours. Working hours are already down, so more part time is simply not something the Danish society can afford, they argue, and say they want to improve public child care instead, making sure opening hours match parents’ working hours.

“We have created a labour market where parents can chose the hours they want to work. And we see that a few too many of them choose to go part time, in my opinion,” Jørn Neergaard Larsen said earlier.

He has also made it clear that he does not think Danish parents of younger children work particularly hard compared to those in many other countries. 35 percent of Danish female employees worked part time last year. That figure is far too high, according to the Ministry of Employment.

Happy with differences

The government’s attitude is poor, wrong and dangerous both for individuals and for society as a whole, argue families with children, but their desire for more part time work is also met with resistance from trade unions and feminists. Part time is bad for gender equality, they argue, saying it is typically women who chose to work reduced hours, and as a result in older age women get lower pensions than men.

As a rule there is equal pay for equal work in Denmark, except for an inexplicable wage difference of four and seven percent. But gender divisions within the labour market are very clear. More women work in the public sector where wages are generally lower than in the private sector, where more men work. 

Trade unions also worry if more people go part time, full time colleagues will be expected to solve more tasks. They are also fighting to secure members who work part time the right to get full time employment.

Surveys show that Danish parents are happy with women working more part time than men, and there is also a marked tendency that women are the ones staying at home with the youngest children. Danish parents can share 32 weeks of paid parental leave, yet women usually take most of it. The former centre-left government wanted to make it compulsory for men to take at least three months of the paid leave, or loose it altogether. But they backed out of that proposal.

Part time in Denmark and in the EU

A high proportion of 15 to 64 year olds in Denmark and Sweden work part time compared to other EU countries. One in four in that age bracket work part time in both Denmark and Sweden, and that is considerable more than the EU average, says Statistics Denmark, based on numbers form the joint European Labour Force Survey, 2nd quarter 2015. 

In all EU countries women work far more part time than men. 16 percent of Danish men work part time, which is the second highest number in the EU. 

Source: Statistics Denmark

I am incredibly thankful for part time work!

Cecilie Enevold


35 year old Cecilie Enevold has gone part time in order to spend more time with her two small children. That was a difficult but correct decision, she says.

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