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Use of Parental Leave by Immigrant Fathers

Does policy play a role in how likely immigrant fathers take up leave?

Many societies, particularly in the Nordic region, have made efforts over the last decades to create more gender-equal family leave policies. These policies are supposed to encourage fathers to take time off from work to help care for their children by making it easier to do so. Once these policies are in place, it is a matter of making sure fathers actually take advantage of them. Jussi Tervola, Ann-Zofie Duvander and Eleonora Mussino took a close look at these policies to see if immigrant fathers are also using these benefits to take time off from work to help care for their children. They wanted to answer the question: Is the use of parental leave by immigrant fathers related to policy design?


The authors chose to focus on Finland and Sweden using detailed longitudinal register microdata for first-born children between 1999 and 2009. There are two main types of fathers’ leave: Daddy days and individual leave. Daddy days allow fathers to simultaneously take time off with the mother, while individual leave is taken separately from the mother. Moreover, individual leave can be allocated to each parent separately (quotas) or shared between parents as they see fit (shareable leave). In Finland, individual leave system are more rigid and at the time of the study, the country lacked a father’s quota. The Swedish system, in turn, incorporates long quotas and the leave can be used more flexibly, e.g. with abundant possibilities for part-time use and postponement of leave. The authors analysed the impact of three specific policy reforms: The introduction of the second quota month in Sweden in 2002, the introduction of the conditional quota in Finland in 2003 (fathers received two additional weeks of leave if they used part of the shared leave), and the addition of flexibility in how the leave can be used in Finland in 2007.  


Figure 1: Proportion of fathers using different parts of parental benefits by immigrant status and birth year in Finland and Sweden.
Note: To highlight the immigrant effect, only couples where both are immigrant or native-borns are included in the figure.


Tervola et al. found that both policies, daddy days and individual leave, are used to lesser extents by immigrant fathers than native-borns in both countries (Figure 1). Whereas immigrant fathers in the two countries use daddy days to similar extents, strong differences prevail in the use of individual leave. In Finland, immigrant fathers’ use of individual leave has remained marginal whereas in Sweden over half of immigrant fathers use individual leave.


Immigrant fathers in Sweden clearly increased their use of individual leave when the second quota month was introduced in 2002, partly even more so than native-born fathers. This speaks for the importance of the quota for immigrant fathers. The finding may be attributed to immigrant fathers’ weaker labour market attachment, which tends to be insecure because they typically have part-time jobs and temporary contracts. Therefore, they will only use the amount of time allotted and not try to extend their leave.


When looking at Finland, the introduction of the conditional father’s quota and the increased flexibility only resulted in more native-born fathers and immigrant fathers from Western countries using these benefits. They argue that one reason for this may be a lack of information: Previous studies have observed that large share of Finnish fathers in general has not been aware of the leave. Moreover, because the number of immigrants in Finland is smaller than in Sweden, the networks are much smaller and therefore, the information may have not spread as easily. In addition, the information about these new policies were not available in all languages in Finland, which also creates challenges to spreading the information. Alternatively, the findings from Finland can be explained by the fact that, during the studied period, Finland did not incorporate a father’s quota in its true meaning, which perhaps restricted the effect of the reforms on immigrant fathers.


To help increase the participation by immigrant fathers in parental leave, it is important for policy makers to create schemes that increase the incentives to take leave, particularly in situations when mothers would be more likely to take leave. This can be done through extending the father’s quota as well as increasing the flexibility in how the leave can be used. As the experience of Finland implies, just by having these leave opportunities is not enough, but efforts must also be made to ensure that all groups, both natives and immigrants, are aware of them. This includes having the information available in more languages and making an effort to spread the word among different communities. These measures will likely help contribute to an increase in more immigrant fathers taking parental leave.