According to the NYT, Sweden’s parental leave policies is something to be desired and imitated. A thoroughly interesting and somewhat surprisingly read. For some background on my previous thoughts on fertility rates and interventionist policies on getting women back into the work place full time, here.
But scrolling down to second half of the article, the rosy picture decidedly darkens.
Some, however, worry that as men and women both work and both stay home with kids, a gender identity crisis looms. “Manhood is being squeezed” by the sameness, argued Ingemar Gens, an author and self-described gender consultant.
So is the Swedish taxpayer. Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Bodil Sonesson Gallon, head of sales at Axis Communications, an IT company that specializes in video surveillance, admits that parental leave can be disruptive — for careers and companies. She laments that with preschools starting at 12 months and little alternative child care, there is huge pressure for parents to take at least a year off.
Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused.
When women and men used to be able to split their shared parental leave time however they wanted, women usually took the majority of allotted time off, because their pay was usually lower, thus the economic impact on the family unit as a whole was less.
For more dynamic businesses that want to avoid missing key personnels for too long, there’s a decided shift towards hiring men ahead of women so as to minimize the disruption of its workforce.
In effect, this sort of chess-play has resulted in women mostly confined in public-service works with lower pay and less exciting career trajectories than their husbands.
Fathers take on average only 20 percent of the 16 months of paid parental leave offered in Sweden to either mums or dads, according to Statistics Swede—a skimpy average that has sparked a broad debate over how to encourage more fathers to take the paid time off and reduce inequalities in the home. In most cases it is mothers who invoke their legal right and stay home with the kids. Women are over-represented in low-income jobs, such as teachers or nurses, and on average earn 84 percent of the average male salary, according to Statistics Sweden.