In the competition to be the best country for working parents, Finland is stepping up its game, big time. The Finnish government just announced that beginning in 2021, couples can receive a total of 14 months of paid parental leave.
Currently, paid maternity leave is 4.2 months, while paid paternity leave is 2.2 months, until the child turns two. Under the new system, both parents can take up to 164 days of paid leave (amounting to roughly 14 months), and pregnant women would get an additional month’s allowance.
Couples would be allowed to transfer 69 days of their quota to each other, and single parents would be allowed to take the full leave.
The change places Finland firmly near the top of the list of countries that offer generous paid parental leave benefits, but neighboring Sweden wins. The country offers parents 240 days each after a baby’s birth.
Finland’s minister of social affairs and health, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, said the reform was intended to improve gender equality and to boost a declining birth rate, and that it was an “investment in the future of families and the wellbeing of families,” according to a government statement.
Research has shown that men who take paternity leave tend to tackle more childcare and housework over the long run, and experts believe paternity leave is one key to erasing the wage gap, because moms’ careers tend to suffer when they take time off from work.
Yet even in countries with generous paternity leave policies, including Finland, men don’t always take it. Pekonen acknowledged the change “will not alone solve the everyday challenges of families with small children,” adding that a shift toward “family-friendly attitudes in the workplace” was also needed, according to CNBC.
That shift stands a better chance of happening in Finland, where, Reuters reports, the country’s coalition of five parties are all led by women, of whom four are under 35 years old. Finland’s prime minister, Sanna Marin, is the world’s youngest serving state leader at age 34. She’s also the mom of a 2-year-old daughter. While speaking on a panel at the World Economic Forum last month, she said that she split parental leave equally with her husband, both taking six months out of work to take care of their daughter.
It provides a glimpse of what it might take to pass a federal paid family leave policy in the US, the only developed country without paid maternity leave: all-female leadership. Let’s hope the 2018 midterm elections, which ushered more women into Washington than ever before, and doubled the number of working moms in Congress, is a harbinger of things to come.