Thursday, June 10, 2010

Parental leave

Another of those articles in NYT, this time about the Swedish phenomena "parental leave". It's titeled "In Sweden, the men can have it all". I have to admit, it's not all roses and there is something to be said about the problems on being viewed as "the woman who probably will take 10 months off with pay" when being in their 30ies and looking for a job, but in all pales when faced with the realities of parents in other countries (mostly thinking about the US right now, obvious reasons).

Anyway, I have high lighted some things from the article that I find interesting.
"Among those with university degrees, a growing number of couples split the leave evenly; some switch back and forth every few months to avoid one parent assuming a dominant role — or being away from jobs too long. The higher women rank, the more they resemble men: few male chief executives take parental leave — but neither do the few female chief executives. "

"Eight in 10 fathers now take a third of the total 13 months of leave — and 9 percent of fathers take 40 percent of the total or more — up from 4 percent a decade ago."

"In Sodermalm, Stockholm’s trendy south island, the days of fathers taking only two months are clearly over. Men with strollers walk in the park, chat in cafes, stock up at the supermarket..."
This was one of the things I haven't thought about too much but was made clear to me last year while on vacation. My travel companion pointed out, a number of times, how many men in groups with strollers that we saw... all over the city... and on the bus... and they seemed having a good time and there was no women around these small children. It was indeed one important moment for me too. I clearly forget that my upbringing and traditions are indeed different than here in the South. (I'm not saying dads aren't involved here, I'm simply saying it is less overt and less easy.)

"Claes Boklund, a 35-year-old Web designer taking 10 months off with 19-month-old Harry, admits he was scared at first: the baby, the cooking, the cleaning, the sleepless nights. Six months into his leave, he says, he is confident around Harry"
I would think that most mothers are fairly scared around the baby the first few days too... but society kind of tells us that "women automatically knows what to do"...

But, all of this must cost money. What's the numbers?
"Taxes account for 47 percent of GDP, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. Family benefits cost 3.3 percent of G.D.P., the highest in the world along with Denmark and France, said Willem Adema, senior economist at the OECD."

This means, for regular people, that the income tax is somewhere around 32% (as a starting point for average income person) and rising, tax on stuff you buy in the store (alcohol and tobacco and gas excluded - these are higher taxed goods) is 25%. And a number of other taxes will add on. What do you get? Among other things (no tuition on universities, schools and lunches included in many schools);

"With full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month, “people feel that they are getting their money’s worth.” Parents may use their 390 days of paid leave however they want up to the child’s eighth birthday — monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly — a schedule that leaves particularly small, private employers scrambling to adapt."

And then the last part, as I mentioned in the beginning, "Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused"

In general though, I wonder if it isn't the last comment of the article that sums up my own feeling about life and the ponderings about moving back. "Graduates used to look for big paychecks. Now they want work-life balance."

Remember, 5 weeks of vacation a year..... that's not too bad either. But sure, you will not be Rich and someone will take money from you to redistribute them to others. And one lands in the discussion that "it might not be great, but it seems better than the other side of the spectrum, at least in my humble opinion". And I don't know what I'd do if the US decided to implement some of this thinking for potential dads... and mothers... considering that where I currently work there is no fatherly leave, and only a few weeks of unpaid maternal leave, which I find appalling. Then we haven't even approached the strangeness of "sick child leave".*

*most of my experience with this here in the US have indicated that it is ok for many non-hourly people to just leave work in order to go and pick up a sick child... it's also sort of understood if one doesn't come in one day due to child's sick, even if it might not be mandated by the work policy... this imho is strange since it gives off an idea that it is ok to "sort of lie", not to mention that others have to pick up the slack. It would be so much better with a more realistic system, that allowed for both men and woman to take care of their children in an orderly fashion. After all, don't we want involved dads and women with jobs? (maybe we don't?)


FrauTech said...

Haha sick child leave. So where I work we have a combination leave pool: good for both sick and vacation. This means if you are sick, you just take a day off, you don't need to provide proof that you were really sick. They have a "special policy" in place so parents can use up to x hours a year (I think it's 16) for their children's school plays, parent-teacher conferences, etc. But guess what? That's 16 hours out of your vacation time, not 16 hours of "free" time for parents. I mean it's nice they're not discriminating against non-parents but it's pretty ridiculous we have a written policy in place that you CAN use your vacation/sick time for your kids' school play (and a form to fill out). Much easier to just lie and say you're golfing that day or are sick rather than tell your boss you're doing any darn thing for your kid.

Alyssa said...

The system in Canada is very similar to Sweden, although not quite as long (we can get one year total of "maternity leave" - for the mother before the baby comes - and parental leave). We also pay higher taxes than in the US, but we also have lower tuition, universal health care, etc.. It really is a trade off, and some people like it while others don't.

chall said...

FT> it's a bit like my present work place then, you can take sick child leave up to 25 h/yr i think. And then you probably take "your sick leave?". But we have seperate accounts for vacation and sick leave. I think that is the only sane thing to do... how can you dare take vacation otherwise? In case you get sick later I mean?

The system is flawed though, no question about it.

Alyssa> I know. Canada is in many aspects my safe haven when it comes to compromises. Plus that it is good at integrating the immigrants...

LabMom said...

Our system was you could use your sick leave to take care of ANYONE who was sick (child, parent, self) OR you could use vacation time once your sick leave was exhausted. (so you aren't technically 'punished' if you have more kids and thus more sickness. There was nothing 'extra' for people with kids.

As for the rest of the article:
In all honesty, I wish they would clean up maternity leave policies first, before we start jumping onto the paternity leave bandwagon. (Although maybe this is a new angle to got at it from, since it always seems like when issues affect men, changes happen at a faster pace.)

chall said...

LabMom: I do think there might need to be something extra for people with kids... but that might be history talking?

In any event, the "cleaning up maternity leave" is something that needs to be done imho, but I think there would be agood thing to at least acknoledge the dads when you do it. Like, i dunno know, at least 1* week of paternal leave right at the birth so that the father can be home with his new family as well?

And I am not sure if it would speed things up or not ere. There are a lot of opposition against having fathers home... from both sides...

*I started writing 1 month but realised that wasn't feasable or eve realistic here. THen I thought 2 weeks, but backed down to 1... 5 days. I really don't think that would be too much to ask for. And then at least X weeks paid for the mother. I'll leave that completely blank since it is a big change anyway...

ScientistMother said...

I've come to believe that the US doesn't want equitable mat leave or child care. Not having it, keeps women at home and under the men's thumb.