What can be done to increase men taking extended paternity leave? (or: Paternity fraternity for eternity)

This post is about divorce and paternity leave and what they have in common (clue: I do not think one causes another!)

I haven’t met any other dads yet who are doing extended Paternity leave. A couple of stay-at-home dad’s but this is a different thing, and they are still small in number. This got me thinking about how this is ever going to going to get to the point where it is considered normal.

The rate of take up for extended paternity leave is currently around the 1% rate. I thought it’d be worth looking at what’s happened in Sweden which is often held up as an exemplar for how it should be done.

As with many aspects of civil society, Sweden has long been pretty forward thinking on paternity leave. They brought in laws around shared parental leave over 40 years before the UK. But the new law did not get off to a flying start. When the laws first came in for Sweden in 1974, there wasn’t much take up. In fact it took nearly 25 years for paternity rates to move 12%. But then in the subsequent 10 years this shot up to 24%. What’s happening here?

Sweden graph

Data taken from: http://rsa.revues.org/456

To answer I think you can do worse than look at how divorce rates have changed in the UK. There’s a review of the UK’s divorce statistics over on The Guardian’s brilliant data blog which shows the trend over the last 80 years. The divorce rate crept along until the 1970s when the divorce rate suddenly shot up, almost tripling in the space of 5 years.



There’s probably lots of reasons why this happened. But one explanation for this that I think is compelling is that it’s all to do with the divorcee dating game. The theory goes like this – when there’s no divorcees about, there’s no one to available to remarry and you’ll be alone forever, so you’re probably best sticking out in a loveless marriage until you die. But if there’s lots of divorced people then you can have another go and maybe it’ll turn out better the second time. It seems that the number of divorcees needed to reach a critical mass in order for there to be a sustainable post-marriage dating market. And this was suddenly reached in the early 70s.

Is this the same effect as with the Swedish parental leave data? I’m not suggesting that fathers on paternity leave want to date each other. Or that men necessarily want to hang out with men – I’ve had a great time hanging out with the mums whilst on paternity leave, and as I said before I’ve always been made to feel welcome. But certainly the more men who take paternity leave, the more men will take paternity leave.

So do you think we need to achieve critical mass? What do you think we can do to get to this tipping point quicker? If my site can play the smallest part in this I will be happy. But don’t blame me for the divorce rates.

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