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How Paternity Leave Redefines Manliness

By Madeline Holler |

In Sweden, paternity leave is just as important as maternity leave. American Nathan Hegedus describes over on Slate what state supported work leave and fatherhood are like in the country of his wife’s birth and his new homeland.

Hegedus has spent the last 18 months using one famous Swedish product many of us in unpaid parental leave hell would like the Scandinavian country to export: paid paternity leave. After his wife returned to work when their second child turned 18 months old, Hegedus started his 18 months of full-time care-giving to their two kids. He says he, an American, couldn’t imagine what it would be like — what his male peers who were also on leave would be like — when his work leave kicked in.

To his surprise? Hilarity did not ensue.

The men were just as capable as the women. And just as boring, really. They talked about poop and milestones and discipline just like he had been told mothers always did. No talk of sports. No talk of what line of work they were in. Everyone faced the same day-to-day challenges as each other — and as their wives had before they returned to work.

His piece is an interesting read for many reasons, not the least of which is what he has to say about modern masculine culture and how the Swedish paid work leave policy has actually changed — forced the change — in what’s perceived as masculine, what is considered a mother’s innate ability and the roles society has, until now, forced on one gender or the other.

Of course, for Americans this can be a particularly maddening piece to read, what with no sign of significant paid maternity/paternity leave in sight, and no sign of a coming end to gender stereotyping for parents or kids.

Is there really a case to be made against some kind of parental leave being the norm?

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Photo: By Jesper Wiking [via Flickr]

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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15 thoughts on “How Paternity Leave Redefines Manliness

  1. michelle says:

    Sweden is ranked #7 in the world for standard of living (human development index). The US is #13. I definitely think these kinds of family-friendly policies are a factor.

  2. Gretchen Powers says:

    I kind of changed my tune about this sort of thing. I tend to agree now that these sorts of things are a good idea, but there should be a limit to how many times a family is allowed this. In the US some folks have LOTS of kids and it doesn’t seem fair that they get the benefit over and over and over…

  3. Amy says:

    The case to be made against it is purely economic. Americans simply don’t want to increase their tax burden to pay for government sponsored parental leave.

  4. Gretchen Powers says:

    America would need a total and complete overhaul of how money is spent to make this happen. Shut down the BS wars. Higher taxes for the rich and corporations. A full scale value shift. Probably will not happen soon, but would be nice if it happened eventually.

  5. Amy says:

    Higher taxes for EVERYBODY, not just the rich and corporations.

  6. Gretchen Powers says:


  7. michelle says:

    Amy, what on earth are you basing this on? The Swedish model is that the cost of leave is shared between employers and the government. No one needs to tax middle or working class people more to pay for better family policy. Just close the tax loopholes on corporations (or mandate that they share in the cost of family leave) and you’re there. Corporations currently dodge taxes and pay an effective rate of only 2% — they can afford to pay more. Or make the military budget 20% of federal spending (as opposed to the over 40% it is now) and you’re there.

  8. Gretchen Powers says:

    Let’s stop spending money killing and abusing people all over the world and take care of people here…yes, I have changed my mind alot on things over the past couple weeks of reading and digging into stuff.

  9. Laure68 says:

    In countries like Sweden, France, etc. where people get better benefits everyone is taxed more. Actually much more. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. People just learn to make do with less. However, we can’t really have a discussion about these kinds of benefits without accepting the fact that we would have to pay more into the system.

    I agree with the other suggestions. (Lower military budget, fewer loopholes and deductions.) But that really would not cover it. I don’t know of a country that has as low a tax rate on the middle class as the US and has these kinds of benefits.

  10. Amy says:

    In the Swedish model, the cost of parental leave is paid entirely by the government… by the Swedish system of “social insurance.”

    Personal income tax rates in Sweden range from 30-60%. In the US, it’s more like 15-40%.

    Yes, close the tax loopholes. That would be great.
    “Corporations currently dodge taxes and pay an effective rate of only 2% — they can afford to pay more.”
    That is laughably incorrect. The US has the highest corporate tax rate on the planet. Even with all the loopholes, the effective tax rate is still among the highest of all nations.

  11. Gretchen Powers says:

    Once we hit peak oil and run out of other natural resources we’re all going to have to make due with less whether its because of taxes or just nature….may as well get used to it.

  12. Gretchen Powers says:

    this JUST in…I didn’t even go looking for it, one of my FB friends had it posted:

  13. michelle says:

    Nice work Gretchen! :)

  14. Amy says:

    I’ve been thinking about this issue all weekend. It’s driving me to distraction, actually. The government hands out tax breaks like candy at Halloween. The tax code, because of this, becomes more difficult to navigate each year. But it’s not just corporations that benefit from these tax breaks, individuals do too … mortgage interest deduction, anyone?

    My point is that it seems that we could lower tax rates for everybody if we actually taxed ACTUAL individual income (without all the tax expenditures). Using a broader tax base combined with lower rates seems like a good recipe, frankly. And a pipe dream, sadly.

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