Paternity leave is overrated

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When extended paternity leave was introduced by Norway’s Labor Party in 1993, it was argued that fathers spending six weeks at home with newborns would have a slew of socioeconomic benefits; it would help dad become an equal caregiver to mom, strengthen women’s standing in the job market and balance out wage discrepancies between the genders. New research shows this is not the case and today paternity leave will be extended to 12 weeks.

State secretary Henriette Westhrin still believes paternity leave promotes equality, despite a recent study that would indicate otherwise. PHOTO: Esben Johansen

Causal Effects of Paternity Leave on Children and Parents was published by the state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway). The study examines what effect the paternity leave quota has had on Norwegian families and their children for the first time.

The idea that mothers will work more if fathers work less has turned out to be false and evidence indicates that the arrangement actually has a negative effect on women’s income. In the years after they have children, mothers with a supportive, involved partner tend to work and earn less. If the men stay home longer, so do the women.

The study was based on 15,000 families, all of whom had children in the months surrounding the enactment of paternity reform. They found no evidence that paternity leave had an impact on income or workload for these men, and it has not led to fewer divorces and more children. “Our findings lend very little support to the hypothesis that paternity leave changes the division of labor in the home,” Jon H. Fiva, associate professor at business school BI told newspaper Aftenposten.

As of today, paternity leave will be extended by eight weeks, and Fiva does not exclude the idea that a longer leave period might have a stronger effect. However, the study does indicate that the government does not have evidence to support their claims that paternity leave promotes equality, as they do in the parliamentary report Equality for equal wages (Likestilling for likelønn).

State secretary Henriette Westhrin of the Socialist Left Party is skeptical to the new study. “I am not contesting the findings in the the report, but this is based on data from the very first families who took advantage of the paternity leave arrangement. They have not taken into account the impact paternity quotas have had on social change over time,” Westhrin told Aftenposten.

About half of all Norwegian fathers take advantage of paternity leave quotas, but one in three choose to take less time than is allocated. Glenn Stenholm is managing director of a software company and father to two-year-old Theo. When his son was born, Stenholm chose to take only four weeks of his paternity leave, because he considered this the best solution for his company, customers and family. “I know it is politically incorrect to say that 12 weeks is too much, but I think a lot of men in time-consuming professions would have issues staying away from work that long,” Stenholm told Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Liv Buli
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