The Nordic welfare model, where society actively supports gender-equal participation in both parenting and the labour market, continues to attract international attention. The five Nordic countries are generally considered to be rather homogenous and advanced in the area of social and family policy. However, new research presented in the book Fatherhood in the Nordic Welfare States shows that although the countries do share many features, there are also important differences. Professor Tine Rostgaard from Aalborg University wrote several chapters of the book and also edited the entire work together with Professor Gudný Björk Eydal, University of Iceland.
‘One thing that all Nordic countries have in common is that they have tried to make it easier for fathers to participate actively in family life. Denmark and Sweden are at opposite ends of the Nordic continuum. In some of the countries – Denmark in particular – the concept of gender equality is mostly of symbolic importance and not something that’s concretely implemented in national policy. By contrast, Sweden has worked actively for many years to promote gender equality and active fatherhood through policy and legislation. Iceland, in turn, has been extremely progressive when it comes to parental leave. In 2013, Iceland passed a law reserving 5 months for the mother, 5 months for the father and 2 months to share any way they want, putting them at the forefront in this area,’ says Rostgaard.
A new government has, however, reverted back to the previous policy of 3 months for each parent and 3 months to share. Finland and Norway place somewhere in the middle of the field, Rostgaard explains. Finland has a high share of women working full time in the labour market, while Norway has a more traditional model where a series of family policies give women opportunities to stay home with their children.
Daddy quotas: An effective policy instrument
Fathers’ access to paid parental leave, the so-called daddy quota, is one of the central areas addressed in the book. In all Nordic countries except Denmark, fathers are legally entitled to shorter or longer periods of the total parental leave granted for a child. Against the background of the extensive research results presented in the book, Rostgaard has no doubts: The daddy quota can strengthen fathers’ access to parental leave and also their paternal role.
‘If the goal is to get men to take out more parental leave, the daddy quota is the most effective policy instrument. A quota helps institutionalise important rights and affects all levels, including the workplace and family life,’ Rostgaard adds.
Groundbreaking fertility research among men
Men’s role in relation to fertility and the falling birth rates is one of the groundbreaking areas that the book explores by looking at men’s attitudes to family life and their view of when it is appropriate to have children.
‘The study shows that Nordic men are more tolerant regarding other men’s choice to postpone having children or to not have them at all. Based on the data we have access to, we can’t firmly say that tolerance means that people choose not to have kids. But our data does point in that direction. We therefore conclude that the greater tolerance affects whether you choose to have kids,’ Rostgaard explains.
At a time with a strong political focus on the falling birth rates, the book therefore underscores the importance of men’s attitudes when attempting to understand what determines fertility rates.
Family legislation treats mothers and fathers differently
Other topics covered in the over 400 page book include men’s use of time at home, the paternal role in different family constellations and how policies in the five countries support the possibility for fathers to care for their children, as well as whether the results correspond to the Nordic countries’ aims in the areas of gender equality and family life. An article by Hrefna Fridriksdóttir, associate professor at the University of Iceland, shows that there are significant differences in how mothers and fathers are treated in Nordic family legislation.
‘We’re doing this big “daddy project” in the Nordic countries, but the family legislation doesn’t support the project to the same extent in all countries. Hrefna Fridriksdóttir concludes that greater efforts should be made to ensure that the family legislation is at par with the progressive thoughts that the Nordic countries demonstrate in the area of equality between mothers and fathers,’ says Rostgaard.