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Finland extends parental leave

| Text: Björn Lindahl

Three Nordic countries have recently made changes to parental leave. Iceland increased the leave for both parents to six months in 2021, while Denmark and Finland made changes this summer.

But just how far ahead of other European countries are the Nordics? 

In a slightly ironic twist, Danish men now get considerably longer paternal leave in parts thanks to an EU directive (see story from Denmark here). Iceland has long had the most generous paternal leave but it is not perfect, says gender equality campaigners (see story from Iceland here).   

In Finland, children born on or after 4 September 2022 will now get the chance to see more of their parents. The country’s new parental leave reform increases the number of days that parents can spend at home with their children. Now, each parent gets a quota of 160 paid days off. This means the total length of parental leave goes from just over 12 months to more than 14 months.  

For the first time, the reform gives equal access to parental leave for both parents.

The leave can be taken across several periods until the child turns two.

Some of the leave can be given to the other parent, another carer, your own partner or the other parent’s partner. 

Trying to range European countries according to the best parental leave system is not that easy, however, because there are so many different elements. 

There is usually a short period reserved for the mother around the time of birth. This can be taken either before or after the birth.

Even if parental leave is available, the amount of support varies. Is it 80 to 90 % of people’s salary, or considerably less? Is the amount based on the mother’s or the father’s salary? 

Are there different quotas for each of the parents? How flexible is the leave – how old can the child be, and can both parents be at home at the same time?

The Nordics are ahead of the rest of Europe on one point, at least: the definition of who counts as parents.

According to the new Finnish parental leave legislation, all parents who care for a child have the same right to support regardless of the parent’s gender or whether the person is the biological parent, adoptive parent, residential parent or friend. 

What will the new paternal leave mean for gender roles?

“The pursuit of gender equality constitutes one of the main characteristics of the Nordic countries, both in the labour market and in the private sphere of family and care responsibilities. Parental leave policies that include non-transferable quotas for both mothers and fathers are central factors for this,” says Johanna Lammi-Taskula, head of research at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL.

In a discussion paper published this year, she looked at answers from under-30s in the fifth European Values Study 2017-2020, which is a joint European research cooperation.

Graph 1

She has looked at how the under-30s answer to three – in a Nordic context – fairly provocative statements:  

  1. When a mother works for pay, the children suffer
  2. A job is alright but what most women really want is a home and children
  3. A man's job is to earn money; a woman's job is to look after the home and family.

She found that more than 75 % of the respondents across the Nordic countries strongly disagree or disagree with all three statements. Among those who agree or strongly agree, the last statement gets the least support. Less than 10 % give that answer across the five countries. 

There was a big fall in support for the three statements over time between 1900 and 2010, while opinions have remained stable since then. 

Graph 2

The questions do not provide a clear picture of which Nordic country is most supportive of gender equality, but if you look at how much of the total parental leave is taken by fathers, Iceland came top, although the trend fell slightly over time. Swedish fathers’ share increased between 2006 and 2017. 

The figures are five years old, however, so the latest changes to paternal leave could change the Danish and Finnish figures in particular.


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