Forerunners and Laggards in Parental Leave Uptake in Sweden

This blog is based on an article in Journal of Social Policy. To access the full article click here.

Sweden was the first country to introduce a parental leave scheme whereby both the mother and father can use the leave. Increasing fathers’ parental leave use has been an important gender equality goal in Sweden which has also been motivated from the perspective of a child’s right to both parents.

Characteristics of the Swedish parental leave programme

The Swedish parental leave programme was introduced in 1974. It gave parents six months of paid parental leave after the birth of a child. The benefit was stepwise prolonged to 15 months in 1989, and 16 months in 2002. The parental leave benefit is individual and earnings-based. It is paid out of the national social insurance system, with no direct cost to employers. The income-replacement level has been about 80% since the turn of the century. For parents with no income to rely on, a low flat rate is paid.

Leave sharing between parents

In the 1970s, parents could share the benefit as they saw fit. To encourage fathers to use parental leave, one month was specifically reserved for each parent in 1995, and this month cannot be transferred to the other parent. This reserved month has been popularly known as the “daddy month”. In 2002, when the leave length was extended to 16 months, a second month was reserved for each parent, and in 2016, a third month was reserved for each parent.

Do fathers increase their use of parental leave after the leave reforms in 1995 and 2002?

Yes. Figure 1 presents the distribution of fathers’ use of parental leave within two years after child birth from 1993 to 2010. The figure shows that in 1995 when the first reserved month was introduced, taking leave up to but less than two months swiftly became dominant, whereas the tendency to take no leave at all dropped. In 2002 when the second reserved month was introduced, the prevalence of taking leave shorter than two months shrank, whereas the tendency to take leave longer than two months increased.


Figure 1. Distribution of Fathers’ Uptake of Parental Leave by Calendar Year and Leave Length (per cent), Sweden 1993-2010 (Source: Authors’ calculations based on Swedish register data)

Who are the forerunners and laggards in using paternal leave?

The first group of forerunners were highly educated fathers. They increasingly took leave of more than two months and the difference between them and less educated fathers increased over time. The second forerunner group were fathers in metropolitan areas with surrounding suburbs. Swedish-born fathers were also in the lead of taking more extended leave.

Some groups lagged behind in the general trend towards increased leave use among fathers. The youngest fathers had a depressed probability of taking leave of more than two months. In addition, differences increased between fathers with the lowest incomes and those with better earnings. The last laggard category consists of foreign-born fathers with a foreign-born partner.

In short, taking long leave of over two months was pioneered by better-educated fathers in metropolitan areas and surrounding suburbs, as well as among Swedish-born fathers. Young fathers, low-income fathers and foreign-born fathers lagged behind in these developments. As a whole, highly educated fathers are by far the most prominent group in taking extended parental leave.

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Figure 2. Forerunners and Laggards in Parental Leave Uptake Amongst Swedish Fathers, 1991-2010 (Source: Authors’ calculations (odds ratios in the form of relative risks from multinomial logistic regression models) based on Swedish register data)


Sweden is often considered a forerunner in terms of gender and family change. Its changing patterns of parental leave use highlight those changes. In the 1970s to 1990s, there were relatively few social inequalities in behaviour. Since the turn of the century new divides in behaviour have materialized. It remains for policy makers to address the widening social inequalities in parental leave uptake.

About the authors

Li Ma is Researcher at Karlstad University, and Guest Researcher at Stockholm University. Dr. Ma’s scholarship focuses on social policies and family dynamics in both European and East Asian societies.

Gunnar Andersson is Professor in Demography and Head of the Stockholm University Demography Unit at Stockholm University.

Ann-Zofie Duvander is Professor in Demography at Stockholm University.

Marie Evertsson is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Swedish Institute for Social Research, Stockholm University.



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