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Finland's Women-Led Government Has Equalized Family Leave: 7 Months For Each Parent

Finland's government, led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, announced it will extend family  leave for both parents to nearly seven months. Marin is seen here arriving at an EU summit in Brussels in December.
Christian Hartmann
Finland's government, led by Prime Minister Sanna Marin, announced it will extend family leave for both parents to nearly seven months. Marin is seen here arriving at an EU summit in Brussels in December.

People often ponder how the world might be different if more women were in political power. In Finland, where women lead the five parties in the coalition government, here's one change they're making: equal paid leave for both parents in a family.

Finland's government, led by 34-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin, has announced a new policy that will grant nearly seven months of paid leave to each parent, for a total of 14 months of paid leave. The pregnant parent also can receive one month of pregnancy allowance even before the parental leave starts.

The new policy is designed to be gender-neutral and will come into effect as soon as fall 2021. It will eliminate gender-based allowances that currently grant about four months of paid leave to mothers and about two months to fathers.

Parents will be permitted to transfer 69 days from their own quota to the other parent. A single parent will have access to the allowance for both parents.

The government estimates that the increased leave will cost 100 million euros (about $110 million). Reuters reports that Finland's previous center-right government explored parental leave reform in 2018 but decided it would be too expensive.

Sweden has Europe's most generous leave policy, offering 240 days per parent. Many of those days can be transferred to the other parent, but 90 of them cannot. That means that families wanting to maximize the leave would both take significant time off.

Minister of Health and Social Affairs Aino-Kaisa Pekonen said the goal of the "radical reform" is to improve gender equality and to boost a declining birth rate, according to Reuters. "This enables better equality between parents and diversity among families," she said.

The number of babies born in Finland has been dropping for the past nine years. Last year, 45,597 babies were born in the country— the lowest number since a famine struck in 1868.

As many of the world's developed nations grapple with declining birth rates, many have begun extending leave for fathers.

A 2019 UNICEF report found, however, that even when fathers are provided paid leave, they don't necessarily take it: "In Japan, the only country that offers at least six months at full pay for fathers, only 1 in 20 took paid leave in 2017."

That's seen as one factor in some Japanese women deciding not to have children: Mothers end up shouldering the burden of child-rearing themselves, and companies continue to demand long hours that don't provide the flexibility required by working parents. Last year, Japan's births fell to the lowest number on record.

In Germany, the parental leave policy is designed to encourage fathers to take the time off. The basic parental allowance there grants 12 months paid leave. But if both parents apply for leave, the allowance can be extended to 14 months.

The UNICEF report noted that among the 31 wealthy nations it studied, the United States was the only country that has no national paid leave policy for mothers or fathers.

Finland's prime minister toldThe Washington Post last month that while every country's situation and political atmosphere is different, the Finnish social policies could be a model for the U.S.

"I feel that the American Dream can be achieved best in the Nordic countries, where every child no matter their background or the background of their families can become anything, because we have a very good education system," Marin said. "We have a good health-care and social welfare system that allows anybody to become anything. This is probably one of the reasons why Finland gets ranked the happiest country in the world."

And she has another strategy to grow Finland's population: welcoming immigrants.

"We have an aging population, and we need people to come to Finland, to work there and to raise their children and take part in making our society better," Marin told the newspaper.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.