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..”

Changes to Parental Leave Law Encourage More Equal Division of Childcare

Reykjavík baby

Proposed changes to Iceland’s parental leave law hope to more equally balance childcare responsibilities between mothers and fathers, Kjarninn reports. If the current revisions are passed, both of a child’s parents would be allotted six months of leave, but only one of those months would be transferable between parents.

A new draft of the new parental leave law has been published on the government’s website and will be open for public comment until October 7.

At the end of 2019, parliament voted to extend parental leave from nine months to 12. This change will go into effect on January 1, 2021 and, per Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason, will be extended in stages. Parental leave in Iceland is currently 10 months—four months per parent plus two that can be shared between them. However, studies have shown that the majority of fathers in Iceland only take the four months specifically allotted to them, while the majority of mothers take their four months as well as the two months that they could potentially be sharing with their partners.

Changing the status quo

The revised bill hopes to change this status quo by making paternity leave nontransferable. The logic is that if paternal leave is not sharable to the same extent it is now, parents—particularly fathers—will be encouraged to shoulder an equal burden of the childcare in their households and will also be in a stronger position to negotiate with their employers about taking their full allotted leave time.

Another significant change to the current law would be that parents would have a shorter timeframe in which to exercise their right to take parental leave—a year and a half instead of two. The aim of this change is to ensure that parents take their leave when their children are in the greatest need of their care, that is, from the time of their birth to when they are eligible for daycare.

The drafted bill also proposes that both parents have an independent right to two months’ leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth that takes place after 18 months’ pregancy.