Paternity leave meets its goals

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Fathers who take advantage of Norway’s paternity leave benefits, and take time off work to help care for their newborns, end up devoting more time to family life throughout their children’s upbringing, according to a new study reported in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv on Tuesday.

Norway was the first country in the world to introduce separate benefits for men when they become fathers. The benefits have been altered since the initial four weeks was set aside for fathers in 1993, and most men take advantage of the parental leave that now gives them 10 weeks at full pay. Companies, which help fund the program through fees paid to the state by employers, must respect both parents’ rights to fully paid leave.

Today, a new parent is entitled to a total of 46 weeks off with full pay or 56 weeks with 80 percent of their pay, with the quota allotted for fathers set at 10 weeks. Women are allotted a minimum nine weeks (three weeks before the birth and six weeks after) and then the parents are expected to share the rest. Fathers also generally get two weeks off right after the baby is born, so both parents can be at home with the child.

Norway’s current left-center government coalition believes there will be more equal pay for equal work if fathers take a larger part of the total leave. A study carried out at the University of Stavanger now lends support to the theory.

It concludes that the quota for fathers already has led to them spending less time at work and more time with their children, also when the children get older. “There is a considerable effect that’s coming out of the leave program,” researcher Ingeborg Foldøy Solli told Dagens Næringsliv (DN) .

She and Professor Mari Rege analyzed how the so-called fedrekvoten (father-quota) effects both parents’ priorities regarding job and family life. Their data indicates fathers earn 2 percent less than they would have without the quota.

“That’s quite a lot,” said Solli. Taking advantage of paternity leave left fathers giving their children more priority and their jobs less than they otherwise would have.

“This can mean that fathers of small children work less overtime, don’t aspire to management positions and look for jobs where it’s easier to combine work with, for example, attending a celebration at the day care center or staying home with a sick child,” Solli said. “The father-quota is functioning as it was meant to do.”

While some employers still may react negatively to fathers who go out on leave, she noted that they can’t do so when nearly all fathers are eligible for the leave and take it. The study may also silence critics who have viewed the paternity leave as a chance for families with new babies to take off on extended holidays. The intention of the law was for fathers to stay home with the baby while the mothers went back to work.

State statistics bureau SSB also has claimed that fathers in Norway today are spending more time with their families and less time at work.