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Different views of gender roles explain Swedish-Danish differences in parental leave policy

In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to allow men to go on parental leave. This was largely a result of the idea carriers making the issue a matter of gender neutrality, according to a new doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The thesis sheds new light on the historical processes that have led to Swedish mothers and fathers sharing the parental insurance, whereas in Denmark it is still mostly for mothers.

'The main reason is that the people in Sweden who in the 60s and 70s wanted to see a change in the gender roles managed to make the gender role debate a question of gender neutrality,' Sofie Cedstrand, author of the thesis. By emphasising the unreasonable fact that the state was treating women and men differently, the idea carriers gained the support of the labour movement and also managed to gain majority support in the Parliament for the idea of replacing the motherhood insurance with a gender-neutral parental insurance.

'This was of course a compromise that in practice did not have to mean that all mothers and fathers would change their behaviour. But if we compare the Swedish process with the one in Denmark around the same time, it is clear that without the compromise there would probably never have been a change in Sweden,' says Cedstrand.

'In Denmark, the movement behind changed gender roles wanted part of the parental insurance to be reserved for men only. That was just too radical, and thus they didn't gain enough support.' The parental insurances still differ significantly between the two countries. Although Danish men have gained access to the insurance, they cannot use all parts of it.

'The legislative differences and the clear difference in the view of the gender roles probably also explain why Swedish men use more than 21 percent of the Swedish parental insurance while the corresponding figure in Denmark is 6 percent. The thesis has been successfully defended.

For more information, please contact: Sofie Cedstrand, Telephone: +46(0)31 786 14 85 Mobile: +46(0)730 50 35 13, E-mail: sofie.cedstrand@spa.gu.se

idw :: 08.11.2011