Forerunners and Laggards in Sweden’s Family Change. Fathers’ uptake of parental leave, 1993-2010

Sweden is often considered a forerunner in family change and developments towards less gendered patterns of family production. In this study, we focus on recent developments towards more gender equal sharing of parental leave in Sweden. This country was the first in the world to introduce a gender-neutral parental leave scheme. The aim was to promote the combination of work and family, mainly by enabling women’s participation in the labor force. With time, the focus of policy makers has shifted towards men and their participation in childcare. In our study, we explore how men’s use of parental leave has changed over time before and after the turn of the century. We examine how men’s individual and socio-demographic characteristics are associated with their parental leave uptake over time in order to find out whether there are forerunners and laggards in recent family change. Multinomial logistic regression models were applied to data from national registers. Our study demonstrates a bifurcation in trends over the last few decades. This was associated with the extension of reforms that reserved part of the leave for fathers, the so-called daddy months, but stretches beyond the impact of any such reforms. Taking long leaves of over two months was pioneered by better-educated residents in metropolitan areas and surrounding suburbs, as well as the Swedish-born. Fathers below age 25, low-income earners and foreign-born men were lagging behind in these developments. We regard the unstable labor market situation of the latter a contributing factor to the widening social inequalities in family related behavior.