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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 June, 2005, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Quality time thrills Nordic dads
Father and baby
Scandinavia has some of the most generous paternal leave provisions
Paternity leave schemes in Denmark and Iceland are among the most generous in the world - and new statistics prove the benefits to society, experts say.

Last year, nearly all Icelandic fathers used their entitlement to three months off work on 80% of their salary.

The new paternity law came into effect in 2002. Iceland now has Europe's second highest birth rate after Turkey.

More Danish men are taking paternity leave now - 46,000 in 2004. New parents can share a year of paid leave there.

In 2004, Danish fathers spent an average of 3.6 weeks off work with their babies, compared with the mothers' average of 42.3 weeks.

Breaking the mould

"Danish men are saying they want to change the agenda from their own fathers' agenda," Svend Aage Madsen, head of psychology at Copenhagen University Hospital, told BBC World Service radio.

"They have more contact with their own child and say 'Wow, I don't want to get away from this'," he told the Europe Today programme.

"New bonds were created between small children and their fathers," he said, adding that Nordic countries were also seeing lower divorce rates now.

He described the time he spent on paternity leave as "probably the best time of my life".

The director of one of Denmark's biggest telecoms companies has been asking fathers on his staff to take 10 weeks' leave on full wages, Mr Madsen said.

"It's a positive role model - the company can benefit from it in the long run," he added.

Taking the plunge

In Iceland, young fathers and their toddlers are now a common sight at midday in Akureyri's geothermal pools - a sharp contrast with the situation just a few years ago, reports the BBC's Steven Paulikas.

Icelandic parents can take nine months of paid leave for childcare - three for the mother, three for the father and the rest divided up by couples as they see fit.

Traditional ideas of gender roles have been transformed, according to Margret Maria Sigursdottir, director of the Icelandic Gender Equality Centre.

"Now you can see men on the street walking with prams, and that's a new thing, and it's very common here," she said.

Sociologists say mothers with partners who play an active role in raising their first child are more likely to have more children.

Your comments:

Here in the States we get 12 weeks unpaid. However, there is strong resistance from employers to honour this. Being unpaid makes it impractical. Economic growth is equated to productivity. Family bonding does not seem to factor into this equation and yet worker moral is at an all time low. I wish the politicians would open their eyes.
Byron, Atlanta, USA

In Sweden the allowance is 18 months leave on 80% salary up to a certain level. The leave can be divided as the parents wish although, from memory, 3 months are reserved for the father. Most of my male friends and work colleagues have taken at least 6 months off work with each child. I plan to take 9 months off work next year with my first child. Britain is in the dark ages concerning childcare and workers' rights and the government should be ashamed.
Steve, Stockholm, Sweden

This would be fantastic - and would make the world of difference. My husband works in Switzerland and when our second son was born in November he was given a day's paid leave by the company, which they proudly stated as being more than the government required of them! He had to save up annual leave all last year to take a decent amount of time off in November and December and ended up eating into this year's leave - we now find ourselves in a position where we he can't take a 2 week break this summer - it's a disgrace.
Tonya, Jettingen, France

As a British man living in Denmark with a two-year-old daughter, I benefit from the generous paternity leave. I can not imagine going back to a system where I would miss out on sharing the first few months of my child's life. Our second child is due any day - and the weather is great at the moment, so what more could I ask for?
Jason, Copenhagen

A balance has to be drawn between the costs and benefits, both tangible and non tangible, of increased paternity leave. All too often we consider the human impact only in fiscal terms. The potential of stronger family bonds, better adjusted parents and children, fathers who have the opportunity and relish the chance to support their children as role models through life will surely pay dividends. Consider the impacts on crime, education, and health all of which are linked to parental care. We owe it to ourselves and our children to give them the one thing that can never be replaced, time.
Patrick Sobers, Hullavington, UK

Definitely. I had just three days off with my first born, and two weeks with my second, and I have generous employers. I spend every minute of the weekend with my kids and would love a stress free (no money worries) few weeks if I have a third. It surely has to have so many beneficial effects in the long term for personal and professional relationships.
Martin, UK

Fantastic! Wish there were such privileges in Ontario. Can I relocate?!
Sameet Kanade, Toronto, Canada

In the US, most companies do not give any time off for new fathers. I had to save all of my vacation just to take five days off to be with my wife and new son. I think that at least a few weeks would be nice. No wonder the US is filled with such stressed out people!
Matthew, Vienna, Virginia, USA

Having been a stay-at-home-dad for 14 years (and having been asked by a potential employer some years ago: "You are not one of those men who want to take time off with a new baby are you?") I think the Danes and the Icelanders have it right.
James, Falls Church, USA

Here in Norway they are thinking about increasing the leave for fathers to 10 weeks. My question is what about those that are left at work to cover for the parents' leave? What do they get - increased workload, more stress? I think it is unfair. What about couples who are unable to have children? This is all a bit one-sided, and that consideration should be given to those left at work.
Jim, Norway

Yes it's nice to have the offer there to take paternity leave. However, it's not something that's practical for every father to do. The money received while on leave certainly doesn't compare to salary pay, so it's not always economically possible when one has bills to pay and mouths to feed. Also, even asking for the leave can get one branded as a 'non-team player' by co-workers and employers.
J Jespersen, Denmark

I welcome equality in parental leave. After the initial period where mother has to recover from the birth, there is no reason why father cannot stay home with the baby. Until both parents can take equal parental leave there is a disincentive to employing women of child bearing age. I recently read a Swedish article which referred to men taking less than two months leave as "shirking parental responsibility". It seems a fair comment, but impossible under the current, unbalanced system for men to have equal time.
Nev, Cambridge, UK

What a refreshing idea, why can't UK businesses operate this idea?
Andrew Topham, Derby, UK

Country profile: Iceland
04 May 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Denmark
24 Apr 05 |  Country profiles


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