by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
I read with interest your series about maternity leave. I've been looking at the data and the anecdotes posted, but I think there is something more related to deeply cultural expectations and less with the law going on here.
I lived in Germany for 4 years, working for a German research institution as a biology researcher. In that time period we adopted an infant. Germany does indeed offer 12 months paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child (14 months for single parents). Another 156 weeks of unpaid parental leave is also allowed. But notice the term "parental." The same leave is offered to both mothers and fathers. Both parents could take the paid leave, they share the total of 156 weeks of unpaid parental leave. The only difference I see is that mothers get another 6 months before the birth in addition.
I am one father in a same-sex couple. Since my husband was not able to take leave (he worked for a US company), I took a month before the placement of our infant girl and another 3 months after of paid parental leave. It was a godsend and helped me keep my career going and raise a family. Ostensibly, either or both parents could take the paid parental leave, but overwhelmingly it seems to be mothers. This seems to be a cultural stricture and problem and not one with the law.
Along these lines, looks at paternity leave in Sweden:
Over the past 15 years, the streets of Stockholm have filled up with men pushing strollers. In 1995, dads took only 6 percent of Sweden's allotted 480 days of parental leave per child. Then the Swedish government set aside 30 leave days for fathers only. In 2002 the state doubled the "daddy only" days to 60 and later added an "equality bonus" for couples that split their leave. Now more than 80 percent of fathers take some leave, adding up to almost a quarter of all leave days. So in the middle of, say, a Monday afternoon in March, the daddies and their strollers come at you both singly and in waves, the men usually either striding fast and stone-faced or pushing the stroller nonchalantly with one hand, cell phone glued to their ear.