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Does a Short Paternity Leave Influence Practices of Fatherhood?

Effects of paternity leave schemes offered by employers in Switzerland

What happens to views and ideas about gendered representations and practices of fatherhood if a company allows new fathers to take one month of paid leave in a country with no statutory paternity leave? Isabel Valarino and Jacques-Antoine Gauthier analysed the implementation and use of a one-month paid paternity leave in the urban French-speaking context in Switzerland.

Copyright: omgimages

Switzerland is an interesting case with regard to its leave policies. It is the only European country where employed men do not have access to a statutory parental or paternity leave when they become fathers. While the state currently does not consider men as caregivers, work organisations increasingly do. Data from the Swiss Federal Social Insurance Office indicates that in 2013, 27% of individuals submitted to collective labour agreements and approximately half of those employed in Switzerland had access to a form of paternity and/or parental leave. However, the majority are granted one or two days, and only in a few of cases, one to three weeks. With regard to parental leave, it ranges from three to 24 months and is unpaid.

In their study, Valarino and Gauthier explored register data from a public institution on workers who took paternity leave between 2010 and 2012. In addition, they conducted in-depth interviews with a sub-sample of individuals selected from this database. Results indicate that fathers use most of the leave available, but many forgo part(s) of their right. Making full use of paternity leave is associated with being part of the working class, being employed in a predominantly male-dominated department inside the company, and working full-time. Individuals in typically male-dominated environments are more likely to use paternity leave in comparison to those working in more gender-balanced or female-dominated departments. The authors interpreted these associations in light of the ‘rights-using practice’ among men who did not hold highly demanding jobs and who strictly took advantage of the amount of paid leave specifically reserved for them.

The analysis also shows that paternity leave had a limited effect in the way fatherhood was experienced by workers, and how this experience affected gender equality inside families. On the one hand, paternity leave enabled fathers to participate more in family life and learn to perform childcare activities; paternity leave also increased fathers’ sense of competence, and enabled them to appropriate their new fatherhood identity. However, on the other hand, the majority of interviewed fathers had mainly a secondary and temporary role with the new-born child while mothers were still the central and taken-for-granted parent.

Regarding the role of the employer, although the institution under analysis seemed to prioritize having a father-friendly workplace, a strong work norm of full availability and dedication to work influenced the attitudes of both managers and fathers towards paternity leave. Paternity leave implementation and uptake increased the visibility of fatherhood in the working place, but it did not radically transform social expectations towards male employees. Also, fathers tended to avoid long absences by not accumulating paternity leave and vacation days during the child’s first year, and to spread leave over a longer period of time. The authors conclude these limited effects may be due to the persisting gendered institutional and cultural context of employment and parenthood in Switzerland.


*This PopDigest has received funding from the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 320116 for the research project FamiliesAndSocieties. FamiliesAndSocieties ( has the aim to investigate the diversity of family forms, relationships and life courses in Europe, to assess the compatibility of existing policies with these changes, and to contribute to evidence-based policy-making. The consortium brings together 25 leading universities and research institutes in 15 European countries and three transnational civil society organizations.