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Fathers Take Longer Parental Leave, Earlier

As a result of three recent significant changes to parental leave legislation, new fathers are taking longer parental leave, with an increase in fathers taking time early in their new child’s life. This, in addition to an increased number of birth from previous years, requires additional funding from the government to the Parental Leave Fund amounting to 940 million ISK, included in the government’s spending bill presented to Parliament this week.

More births and more fathers on leave

According to the bill, three factors lead to increased spending in the Parental Leave Fund. Firstly, a higher proportion of 2019 fathers used their parental leave in the latter part of the parental leave period than in earlier years. Secondly, more 2020 and 2021 fathers take their parental leave in the first three to six months after birth, as opposed to later in the period. Thirdly, 2021 is shaping up to be the year with the most births since 2010.

A win for equality

Director of the Parental Leave Fund Leó Þorleifsson told Fréttablaðið that the increase in expenditure was a positive sign. “I’m still not sure how high we can set our hopes for the effects of the new parental leave rules but there are indicators that it’s pretty successful,” Leó stated.

According to Leó, three significant changes in regulation have led to fathers taking more leave. The first one was in January 2019, when the maximum payment was increased to 600,000. The next was in 2020, when parental leave was extended to 10 months. Finally, last January, parental leave was again extended to 12 months, divided equally between the parents, although six weeks are transferrable. An earlier system allocated nine months parental leave, with three months for each parent and three divided between them. Before the changes, notably more women than men took most of the three shared months.

Leó stated that many men still choose to transfer the six weeks, but more and more fathers are choosing to take the four and a half months leave allotted to them. “They also seem to be taking their leave earlier than before, both in 2020 and 2021. This may be both because they have more leave they can take and because the discourse towards fathers taking parental leave has been very positive.” It used to be that most fathers would take 4-6 weeks just after the birth and take the rest of their leave later, but now, they take more leave during the first months of new parenthood.

Pandemic might play a part

This data suggests that fathers are increasingly taking leave and using their right to parental leave to the fullest. “This is a good step towards equality and very good for the children,” stated Leó. He notes that this early data should be taken with a grain of salt as the global pandemic might have some effect. “This can’t be ruled out and likely has some effect. But I think the largest part of the increase in fathers taking parental leave has to do with the increase in maximum payments and the increase in parental leave specifically allotted to each parent.”

The gap between leave and preschool remains

When asked what the next steps were, Leó stated that it’s essential that maximum payments continue to reflect wage development but notes that the next big step has to do with childcare. “The next big step that the system as a whole needs to focus on is how to bridge the gap between parental leave and preschools..”

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