By Eliana Huffman
ABBA. Cold winters. Gender equity and social acceptance of women’s fight for equality in the workplace, at home, and with their romantic partners…oh my?
Now that you’ve been reminded of the existence of this tiny Scandinavian country, let’s take a more in-depth look at Sweden’s family leave policy and the effect it’s having on the construction of fatherhood and romantic partnerships.
Before we begin, let’s go over some basics on what this family leave policy offers and how it works. The benefits for Swedish citizens start before birth, with expectant mothers given free prenatal care and group support benefits—but that’s not all. Even parents who don’t give birth to their children biologically are allowed to take parental leave (for example, adoptive parents). This total paid leave period lasts 480 days, and can be split however the parents desire. Parents also get a monthly allowance per child to offset the exorbitant financial costs that come with, you know, raising a whole human being.
Because this policy is so egalitarian, it has been the source of great curiosity. Starting in 2012, researcher Thomas Johansson set out to interview 20 men living in Sweden who decided to share their parental leave period more or less equally with their partners. He focused his discussion mostly on four men in particular to show better representation of the different types of partnerships people have in Sweden. The first man was in a gay partnership, the second man and his female partner both worked part-time, the third man went from spending all of his time at work to all of his time at home, and the fourth man was a stay-at-home dad whose wife was and still is much more career-oriented.
Johansson discovered very common themes: men felt not only a social obligation to split family work equally, but felt they were treated like kings when they did so. They also felt a strong moral obligation to be partners who contributed to childrearing equally.
What’s missing from this study is the perspective of Swedish women, but what we can confirm from other research is that when men contribute more equally at home, women make more of their equal share at work. This calls for further research, but perhaps indicates a link to Sweden’s reduced pay gap compared to the United States.
What can we apply from this study to our own lives in America?
For starters, men who report contributing equally to their partners say they’re happier and have better partnerships, so we can throw that myth of men feeling emasculated or “losing out” to their wives right out the window. Secondly, we can start giving verbal praise to men who do their part, as this clearly is a source of encouragement and social change—but let’s not forget the awesome ladies that do these behaviors, too.
One small step into the daycare for man, one giant leap for (wo)mankind.