Backlash in gender equality? Fathers’ parental leave during a time of economic crisis

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Series Details Volume 28, Number 4, Pages 342-356
Publication Date October 2018
ISSN 0958-9287 (print) | 1461-7269 (online)
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In Europe, there has been an increasing emphasis on the equal rights of men and women to parental leave. Nordic countries such as Iceland are often seen as forerunners in the implementation of laws that promote gender equality by giving each parent non-transferable rights to parental leave.

In October 2008, the Icelandic banking system collapsed and a severe economic recession followed. This can be seen as a natural experimental intervention and provides a unique opportunity to study potential changes in fathers’ use of parental leave in response to drastic economic changes and resulting policy changes.

Our data show that during the years 2003-2007, a time of economic prosperity, Icelandic fathers on average used 3 full months of parental leave. After this event, fathers’ use of parental leave declined, while the reverse could be seen for mothers who progressively took a longer leave with partial pay.

Our analysis suggests that a decline in fathers’ use of parental leave can be traced back to the dramatic collapse of the economic system and the subsequent substantial lowering of the maximum payment during parental leave. The most dramatic changes were seen for fathers in high-income groups whose payments during parental leave were most severely cut.

The data suggest that after the economic collapse and resulting policy changes, women have become increasingly responsible and men decreasingly responsible for childcare duties – an alarming trend from the standpoint of gender equality. Possible remedies and courses of action are discussed.

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