“When should I go back to work? What if I miss my job? Have we budgeted enough to get through a whole year of leave?” Those are just some of the questions we may ask ourselves before having a baby. Yet, since the introduction of Shared Parental Leave (SPL) in 2015, a policy that enables parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and 37 weeks of pay (subject to eligibility), the options available to you and your partner are getting fairer and more flexible. With the UK taking a step in the right direction regarding parental equality,
There is no federally mandated parental leave policy in the USA. If you have a baby in America, you’re not guaranteed any time off work, either paid or unpaid. Individual states and companies have introduced their own policies, but they only benefit salaried professionals. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible families to take unpaid leave and protects their jobs for 12 weeks. But that’s it.
President Trump has bucked traditional Republican party lines by proposing the first federal family paid leave policy in American history (apparently at the insistence of his daughter, Ivanka). However, Trump’s proposed policy is light on specifics, leaving much of the details down to individual states. What it
Hillary Clinton has described Trump’s plan as “half-baked and completely out of touch”, as it only applies to women, not men, and is tagged on to unemployment benefits, rather than the actual salary of the mother. Plus, unemployment benefits vary dramatically across America’s 50 states, and often depend on someone having earned a certain amount per month before they become eligible. A survey found that the proposed policy as it stands would equate to an average of just 2.8 weeks of paid leave on an average salary.
At the opposite end of the scale to the United States is Estonia, which is said to have the most generous parental leave policy in the world.
Estonian mothers can take up to 140 days of fully paid leave – and, once the official maternity leave period ends, they can then share an additional 435 days off with their partner, with the pay calculated on the basis of the couple’s average earnings.
Plus, things are only going to get better, with amendments approved in September 2017 to extend paternal benefits (Estonian fathers can currently take two weeks of paternity leave – the same as UK dads), as well as making the system much more flexible.
Iceland is at the forefront of a ‘use it or lose it’ parental leave movement, initiated by Sweden in 1995. Back in 2000, the country passed a law granting three months of non-transferable leave to both mothers and fathers, plus an additional three months to share as they choose.
Neither parent can transfer any portion of their three-month period, encouraging them both to take the leave rather than ‘lose’ it. Not only that – each parent receives 80% of their salary while off work. It’s proved such a success that in 2013, research found that 79.9% of new Icelandic fathers were taking their full allocation of three months paternity leave.
Despite having one of the most generous paternity leave policies among developed countries (12 months of paid leave, the exact same as the mothers’ allowance, at roughly 60% of their salary) only 2-3% of Japanese fathers opt to take it.
To illustrate just how glaring the problem is, in 2016 politician Kensuke Miyazaki became the first-ever male member of Japan’s parliament to take any paternity leave at all – and even then, he only took a month off work.
Researchers believe the low uptake is down to ‘pluralistic ignorance’ – a situation in which members of a group all privately think one way, yet believe everyone else in the group thinks another. So, while they discovered that most Japanese men wanted to take paternity leave regardless of others’ attitudes towards it, they won’t because of perceived social stigma and the belief they’ll miss out professionally.
The Japanese government is hoping that, with high-profile support from the likes of Miyazaki, these attitudes are changing, and they’re aiming for 13% of Japanese men to be taking a proportion of their paternity leave allowance by 2020.
Couples wanting to have a baby in Ireland need some savings squirrelled away. New parents can currently take 18 weeks of unpaid parental leave each – the minimum under current EU law.
Mothers who satisfy certain conditions regarding social insurance contributions (PRSI) can receive a maximum of €235 per week for 26 weeks from the Irish government as a maternity benefit, while 2016 saw a paternity benefit introduced, giving fathers the same amount for two weeks (again, only having made the right PRSI contributions).
However, there are moves being made to change this, with a current bill proposed by the Social Democrats to extend leave from 18 to 26 weeks, and talks regarding putting a more secure form of paid leave in place.
Finland’s approach to parenting is, in short, extraordinary. Mothers get four months of paid leave, fathers two, and then they can share an additional five-plus months between them. On top of that, one parent can stay at home until their child is three (receiving €450 each month), with their job kept open for their return.
Some argue that this encourages women to stay out of the workforce longer (it’s mainly mothers who take the leave), but figures show fathers are sharing the childcare load. According to a recent OECD report, Finland is the only country in the developed world where fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers – an additional eight minutes per day.
It doesn’t end there, either. Following a tradition dating back to the Thirties, all expectant parents in Finland get the option of receiving a ‘baby box’ – a kind of ‘first-year survival kit’ for their new arrival. (Mothers have the choice of taking the box or a cash grant of €140, but 95% opt for the box.) Containing winter clothes, nappies, blankets and more, the box also includes a small mattress, meaning it doubles up as a crib.
There is no doubt that Finland is leading the way when it comes to parental equality. It’s not just down to the generous leave allowances; Finnish society as a whole is geared towards maintaining a sustainable (and gender-equal) work-life balance. It’s perhaps no surprise that the country was recently ranked first in the UN’s 2018 World Happiness Report (which measures ‘subjective well-being’).
The UK’s SPL policy means that, while we’ve got some way to go to catch up with Finland, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Shared Parental Leave in the UK
What is SPL? And how can you find out if you and your partner are eligible?
SPL is a statutory right for all eligible parents. More flexible than traditional maternity leave, mothers can choose to convert some of their leave and pay into leave and pay that their partner can use. They can take the time separately, together, a mixture of both, or even in blocks, returning to work in-between if they choose to. The UK’s Shared Parental Leave initiative is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy to promote a fair and flexible range of working options that supports employees and boosts business productivity. To find out more about Shared Parental Leave, visit gov.uk/sharetheleave