Sweden has made it easier to combine career with family life. Here's how.
How gender equality can benefit a country's economy
Everyone, regardless of gender, should have the right to work and support themselves, as well as to balance career and family life. This work–life balance approach is one of the overarching principles for gender equality in Sweden.
On a national level, this principle is also about laying ground for the economy. Sweden has a long history of policies with the goal of getting equal numbers of men and women – in other words, as many people as possible – into the workforce to increase the country’s growth.
In 1974, Sweden was the first country in the world to replace gender-specific maternity leave with parental leave, i.e. the possibility for both parents to stay at home with their children.
Where extensive parental leave and high labour force participation co-exist
Sweden’s efforts to achieve gender equality have paid off to quite an extent.
Walk around any Swedish city or town today and you’re likely to find fathers pushing prams and sharing coffee with each other while feeding their babies in cafés and parks. Sweden is indeed home both to ‘latte mums’ and ‘latte dads’ (which is Swedish for parents on parental leave).
And, at the same time, the country has a very high labour force participation rate, with nearly 90 per cent of 25- to 64-year-olds being employed on the Swedish labour market, according to statistics from the OECD.
How does Swedish parental leave work?
Parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Each parent – should they be two – is entitled to 240 of those days.
If the child is born in 2016 or later, each parent has 90 days reserved exclusively for him/her. Should he/she decide not to take these, they can’t be transferred to the other parent. A single parent is entitled to a full 480 days.
Statistically, fathers in Sweden currently average around 30 per cent of all paid parental leave.
Childcare and schooling help the work–life balance
From the day they turn one, children in Sweden have the right to a place in nursery school at a modest fee. Most children begin nursery school at some point and attend it until the autumn of the year they turn six – that’s when compulsory school begins.
The effect of affordable childcare is that most parents in Sweden choose to enrol their children in nursery school and go back to work after their parental leave.
School for children aged 6 to 19 – from ‘preschool class’ (förskoleklass) to upper secondary school/sixth form/high school – is fully tax-financed, most often including lunches. For children between 6 and 16, schooling is compulsory.
What happens if your child is sick?
If you work in Sweden and need to take days off to care for a sick child, there is compensation through the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan), which is available for parents with children under 12 years of age. For children aged 12–15 a doctor’s certificate is required.
The majority of Sweden’s healthcare, including childbirth, is tax-subsidised.
Work–life balance in Sweden
The employed part of the Swedish population work around 1,441 hours per year on average, which is about 18 per cent less than the OECD average. Meanwhile, the country's productivity compares well with that of the other countries in the EU.
As for the 'life' part of the work–life balance, there's plenty on offer for families. From pram ramps to playgrounds and dedicated park sections for children, Sweden has a lot of public areas and features to keep the entire family happy.
A family-friendly approach – from changing tables to high chairs
Most shopping centres and libraries have nursing rooms for infants and changing tables in shared bathrooms. Libraries also offer children’s books in different languages and often activities such as painting, crafts and sing-alongs.
When dining out, most restaurants will provide a high chair for babies and toddlers, and many also have changing tables in the toilets.
In short, it's fair to say that Sweden is a family-friendly country.