6 countries with the best paternity leave

Photo: JackPeasePhotography via Flickr

For many people, having a child is a natural progression in life. Going from a party of two to a bouncing baby on board is a dramatic transformation of a couple’s lifestyle, their relationship, and their careers. Especially since the vast majority of households require two full-time working parents to make ends meet, both women and men are tasked with navigating sleepless nights, exploring childcare options and adjusting to a new normal that feels anything but.

It’s been said before—and continues to be widely debated—but the US is majorly behind all developed countries in offering paid leave for parents. This is true for women since maternity leave is still considered a ‘short-term disability’, only allowing for six weeks off for a natural birth, and eight for a c-section. 

For new fathers, it’s even grimmer: there is no policy. There is no law that mandates any leave, whatsoever, for men. Even if, sure, they didn’t carry the child and go through the experience of labor, males also need time to adjust to their growing family. In addition to zero federal regulation, men are also pressured to return to work ASAP, thanks to an outdated mentality that they must provide for their families. Or, older generations who see paternity leave as unnecessary.

Whatever the case, countries globally are making strides to shift this ideology. By changing the conversation to be family-first rather than career-first, these nations know that people will become more loyal to their jobs, be able to focus and be productive since they had enough time to adjust, and perhaps most importantly: will report higher levels of happiness.

Here, the current countries taking the lead in paternity leave.

South Korea: 53 weeks.

Since 2016, fathers in South Korea had the option to take up to 53 weeks of paid paternity leave. The only issue of course, is that it took time for concepts around this post-baby period to catch on with locals. Since the latest statistics were taken in 2018, 17 percent of all eligible men took this time. Though that doesn’t seem like much, it’s a 66 percent increase from 2017. And when you consider only 800 men took any paid leave in 2010, it speaks volumes for how mentalities are shifting. To keep pushing the mindset, one of Korea’s biggest companies, Lotte Group, started requiring men to take at least a month off in 2016. Even so, it’s estimated that 60 percent of South Korean parents—both mothers and fathers—were uncomfortable and afraid to take this time. 

Sweden: Up to 480 days

From a global perspective, Scandanvian countries are—by far—the most advanced in promoting a healthy work and life balance. Sweden currently offers up to 480 days of leave, based on income. Parents can split those days however they’d like, and 390 of those days are paid via taxes. Though it’s not full salary, but rather 80 percent of it, jobs are still protected. Here, it’s much more common for new fathers to use this time, since the government mandates that three months per parent are given out on a ‘use it’ or ‘lose it’ basis. The concept here is nothing new, either, since it’s been in effect since 1971. 

Iceland: 10 months

Though it’s a small population, it’s one that dedicates itself to promoting family time. Here, mom and dad have equal rights to 10 months off, split between them. However, Iceland felt like this still wasn’t enough to adapt to the realities of parenthood, and will extend the period to one year starting in January of 2021. Like Sweden, Icelanders are paid 80 percent of their income, and some companies even offer additional time away or incentives to retain talent. 

Norway: 46 weeks

Another country that believes in equality between the sexes, parents in Norway have 46 weeks paid at full salary to share. If they want more time, they can also go an alternative route, and take 56 weeks at 80 percent pay. Here’s the deal though: if a new dad doesn’t decide to take his share, the government shortens the time, providing a very real motivation to actually stay at home and bond with their new baby.

Finland: 14 months

This country was recently in the news for two reasons: they are equalizing paid parental leave between men and women, and they’ll increase the time from 11.5 months to 14. This means each parent is entitled to 164 days off. They also have the right to reserve some of those paid days—up to 69—to use during the toddler years for doctor’s appointments, school-related functions, travel and so on. Though this won’t go into effect until 2021, it’s a big move to encourage fathers to take time.

Japan: 12 months

Like South Korea, another country on the Asia continent is struggling to encourage fathers to spend time at home post-baby. Even though men have the same right as women to take up to a year off following the birth of their child in Japan, it’s very rare that they opt in. In fact, while 82 percent of new moms do take leave, only 6 percent of eligible men follow suit.  Considering 30 of those weeks are paid at full, the government is still working to change the minds of the male population that typically put career before family, always.