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Finnish Fathers Increasingly Embrace Parental Leave, but Mothers Still Take the Lead

Finland’s recent family leave reform, which aims to encourage a more balanced sharing of parental responsibilities, is showing signs of progress. By the end of September 2023, there was a noticeable increase in fathers’ utilization of parental leave benefits compared to the previous year. However, it’s still early to fully assess the impact of the reform.

The reform, which applies to children born on or after September 4, 2022, replaced the previous maternity and paternity leave benefits with pregnancy and parental leave benefits.

In the new system, both parents receive an individual entitlement of 160 weekdays of parental leave, with the option to transfer up to 63 days to the other parent.

Statistics indicate a gradual shift in fathers’ engagement in child-rearing during the first year of a child’s life. In the period from January to September 2022, men received 12.6% of the parental leave days paid out, which increased to 15.2% in the same period of 2023. The uptake was highest in Åland (17.5% of all compensated days) and lowest in Kanta-Häme (13.9%).

In 2021, fathers of one-year-old children had used an average of 30 paternity or parental leave days. This number rose to an average of 44 days for fathers of one-year-olds born in 2022 under the new system, suggesting an increase in fathers taking parental leave.

Despite these promising signs, Anneli Miettinen, a specialist researcher at Kela (the Finnish Social Insurance Institution), cautions that it might be too early to attribute these changes solely to the family leave reform. The first definitive assessments of the reform’s impact will be possible when the children born after its implementation turn two years old.

Most fathers transferred their allotted parental leave days to the mothers. By September 2023, 14,400 women and 11,100 men had received the new parental leave benefits for children born in 2022. Among these families, 76% of fathers took some parental leave. However, about one in five fathers did not use any parental leave when their child was 9-12 months old.

A significant 75% of the mothers receiving parental leave benefits had accepted days transferred from the other parent, with 70% receiving the full 63 days possible.

Miettinen notes that this trend of fathers transferring leave days to mothers is not surprising, given the traditional pattern of mothers taking the majority of family leave. She anticipates that while the distribution of leave between parents may evolve, significant changes in this pattern are unlikely to occur rapidly.

Regionally, the proportion of days accepted by mothers was highest in Kainuu (84%) and lowest in Uusimaa (69%). Miettinen points out that these figures are likely to change as more data on the use of family leave becomes available.

The transfer of parental leave days from mothers to fathers is much less common. Less than 4% of men had accepted days from the other parent, with only 1.7% of fathers receiving the full 63 transferable days.

This data highlights a slow but noticeable shift in parental leave practices in Finland, with fathers becoming increasingly involved, though mothers continue to be the primary users of family leave.

Source : Helsinki Times

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