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Iceland Lags Behind Nordics on Parental Leave

Iceland lags behind the other Nordics on parental rights and parental leave, says Ingólfur V. Gíslason, a sociologist at the University of Iceland. RÚV reports that this is among the findings that Ingólfur and his research collaborator, sociology doctoral student Ásdís Arnalds, discussed in a radio interview on Rás 1.

Iceland is the only Nordic country in which parents are, for instance, left to come up with their own childcare solutions between the end of their paternity leave and when their child starts attending pre-school, at around two years old. This is a significant problem, says Ingólfur, which works against the equality-driven thinking that motivates parental leave laws.

A great deal of important data on the subject started being collected in 2001 by professor Guðný Eydal. One of Guðný’s projects was to survey parents whose first child was born in 1997.

“Parental leave laws took effect in 2000,” remarked Ásdís. “So we have data that applies to parents who had their first child before the laws took effect. The survey was repeated in 2007, then again in 2014, and we’ve just started administering the survey for the fourth time.”

‘Enormous Changes’ in Parental Participation Over a Short Time

Ásdís noted that she and Íngólfur had examined parental participation in the care of their children, as well as their participation in the labor market after the end of their parental leave.

For his part, Ingólfur said that what has had the most significant effect in this regard was when parental leave compensation shifted from flat rates to 80% of the parents’ typical wages. “The most obvious change is that parental cooperation—that’s to say, the number of parents that qualify as dividing [care-taking responsibilities] equally—has steadily grown throughout the time that we’ve been conducting these surveys.”

Ingólfur continued that when considering the data on the first three years of a child’s life, much has changed in the short period of time since the first group of parents (those whose first child was born in 1997) were surveyed. “On one hand, we have the lines that show that mothers are the main caretakers, and on the other the lines that show that this [caretaking] is equally divided. They never overlapped for these three years. Now, however, they have started to overlap when the child is ten or eleven months old. So we’ve seen enormous changes over these relatively few years. That fulfills, at least in large part, one of the primary goal of these laws, that is to say, to ensure that children are cared for by both of their parents.”

Ingólfur said that Icelandic fathers come across well in the survey conducted by the World Health Organization every few years. There is a question on the survey, for instance, in which young people are asked about how easy it is to come to their parents with personal problems. “There have Icelandic young people ranked their fathers considerably higher than they did the last time this was done—here we had young people who had enjoyed the full benefits of these changes, that Icelandic fathers topped world lists when it came to teenagers being able to approach them with personal problems. Icelandic mothers have always been at the top, but fathers have now got there, too.”

Parental Leave Shorter in Iceland Than Any Other Nordic Country

Ásdís said that data shows that mothers in Iceland are spending an increasing amount of time at home with their children in order to bridge the childcare gap between when shared parental leave ends and preschool begins. Fathers took less leave time after a ceiling was set on leave pay in 2004, and then even less following the financial crash in 2008. Around that same time, mothers began spending more time at home with their kids and on partial leave, for instance by stretching a six-month leave payment across a twelve-month period in order to reduce the amount of time that the child spent in paid, private childcare with a day mother or father, says Ásdís.

In all of the other Nordic countries, children are either taken into preschool right after the end of paternal leave or parents are entitled to subsidies during the childcare gap. Ingólfur says it’s interesting that Iceland is now on the third majority government that has sought to extend parental leave, and yet, still nothing has been done on this issue.

Ingólfur co-authored a book entitled Parental Leave, Child Care and Gender Equality in the Nordic Countries in 2012. It’s available here, as a full-text .pdf, in English.

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