Volume 40 - Article 51 | Pages 1501–1528  

Parental leave policies and continued childbearing in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden

By Ann-Zofie Duvander , Trude Lappegård, Synøve N. Andersen, Ólöf Garðarsdóttir, Gerda Neyer, Ida Viklund


Background: Demographic theories maintain that family policies that support gender equality may lead to higher fertility levels in postindustrial societies. This phenomenon is often exemplified by the situation in the Nordic countries. These countries have parental leave policies that promote a gender-equal work-care balance for both parents, and these countries have comparatively high fertility levels. However, very little is known about the association between these policies and childbearing at the individual level.

Objective: We explore how fathers’ parental leave use is related to subsequent childbearing in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, and we examine whether differences exist in childbearing outcomes among fathers who use no leave, those who use only the leave allocated to them by the policy, and those who use more than that amount of leave.

Methods: The study is based on 15 years of administrative register data on parental leave use in Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Event history analysis is used to follow parental couples from the end of the parental leave use for their first or second child until a new birth takes place.

Results: There is a positive association between fathers’ leave use and second births in all three countries, while there is a negative association between fathers’ parental leave use and third births in Norway and Sweden. Taking more than the ‘father’s quota’ does not consistently increase the second-birth intensities.

Conclusions: The two-child norm is closely connected to the norm of fathers being engaged in child rearing, while only a select group of fathers continue with a third child.

Contribution: The study shows that the association between gender equality and fertility differs between countries and by the parity of the child. It also shows the need to differentiate between policy-induced gender-equal behavior and gender-egalitarian parenting.

Author's Affiliation

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