Despite the path towards gender equality having been travelled a long way, most will agree that there remain unhealthy expectations and stereotypes surrounding gender roles. One such stereotype is that of fathers being breadwinners and mothers are responsible for the children and the home. Norway’s solution to these biases has been to implement a “father’s quota”, a principle that a fixed portion of parental leave can only be taken by the father. This has been a small step to further level the playing field between men and women, in addition to providing proven benefits for both children and fathers.
What is the Father's Quota and how is it Implemented in Norway?
Soon-to-be parents in Norway are entitled to 49 weeks of combined paid leave. Mothers can take paid maternity leave of 18 weeks, and the “common period” which is 16 paid weeks for both parents. Previously, parents could decide individually who was to take the 15 remaining weeks, however, the father’s quota states that these weeks are to be used by the father only. It is important to note that a significant number of fathers have taken the father’s leave under the new quota, when compared to what they chose to do when the parents could distribute the parental leave as they wanted to.
How did the Father’s Quota Come About?
The Nordic countries were amongst the first in the world to implement paid paternity leave. Norway passed legislation as early as 1978 that declared “equal rights of access to parental leave for both parents”. However, this right of access continued to be used more commonly by mothers than fathers in order to take parental leave. In 1993 however, the parental leave legislation changed and created the “father’s quota” which was entirely reserved for fathers. The intention behind this change was to evenly distribute the responsibilities between mothers and fathers at home, making it easier for mothers to go back to work, in addition to facilitating paternal care of new-borns. The father’s quota in fact induced an enormous spike of fathers who decided to stay home and take care of the child whilst mothers went to work.
How Does the Father’s Quota Affect Children?
Research conducted by the University of Oslo has shown a positive link between a father taking paternity leave (under the father’s quota), and a father being more engaged in their children’s lives later on. This has demonstrable positive effects on children. For example, paternal involvement has been shown to reduce the frequency of behavioural problems in boys. In addition to this, it changes the child’s perception of who its primary caregivers are. This is because, at around 10 months old, children develop the ability to attach to caregivers; therefore if fathers are present children have the capacity to feel safe and protected by both parents.
Professional Benefits for Women
After a certain age, a perception still holds that women are expected or anticipated to become pregnant and take parental leave. In addition to being the primary caregivers, this reduces their availability and therefore career prospects in the labour market. A father’s quota can significantly reduce this burden on women since employers would be aware that childcare and household duties are more evenly distributed between parents. In neighbouring Sweden, where the father’s quota is 12 weeks, a study shows that for every month the father took of this paternity leave, the mother’s earnings increased by 7%.
Is the Father’s Quota too Paternalistic?
Those who advocate against the father’s quota often argue that it is too paternalistic for the state to decide on the distribution of paid parental leave. However, it has been found that many men appreciate the state “forcing” fathers into staying home with their children for several reasons. Some said that it naturally removes the social pressure that they should stay at work instead of bonding with their child. In addition, many fathers also point out that it alleviates pressure to ask employers for paid paternity leave when they face the choice of leaving it to the mother. In 2010, according to research done by Statistic Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå), only 3% of men were against the father quota.
Businesses and Employers
Businesses in Norway interviewed by Aftenposten stated that there has been a positive impact on the productivity of male employees who have taken paid paternal leave; “the leave led them to change the way they work, becoming more productive and prioritising their time better.” In addition, it shows that companies are making an effort with men’s mental health awareness, which is increasingly a factor men take into account whilst seeking employment. For instance, an interviewee by Aftenposten commented that businesses that were in favour of the quota and promote paternal leave as it is considered “human-oriented” and “invested in their employees”.
Removing the Motherhood Penalty
The motherhood penalty refers to the idea that women bear primary responsibilities for childcare. The father’s quota helps close this gender gap and corrects biases that men are the primary breadwinners and mothers are the primary carers for the children and the home. Fathers interviewed in 2019 by Aftenposten, one of Norway’s largest Newspapers, stated that the paternal leave and “forced” father’s quota left fathers understanding how demanding household care and childcare can be.