Sweden’s Maternity and Paternity Leave

June 01, 2018

In 2015, Sweden introduced a third paid month of parental leave for fathers in an effort to increase gender equality and improve the overall health of the mother and child. This is included in the 480 day paid parental leave, per child, that parents share. All payments are made by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Sweden ranked third in the world for Save the Children’s 15th annual Mother’s Index in 2014, which measures the well-being of mothers worldwide and IBFAN’s 2015 report on the situation of infant and young child feeding cites Swedish parental leave and maternal protection legislation is fully comprehensive. Sweden’s National Board of Health and Welfare reported that in 2015, 63% of infants were breastfed at 6 months of age, and that breastfeeding at the ages of 9 and 12 months of age have increased over the past 5 years.

Main Components

Specifics of the Parental Leave Act (up to and incorporating the 2015 amendment) include (10):

Section 3, which stipulates six types of parental leave for care of children that are discussed in more detail in further sections:

1.       Full-time leave for a female employee following birth

2.       Full-time leave for a parent until the child has reached the age of 18 months

3.       Part-time leave with parental benefit

4.       Part-time leave without parental benefit

5.       Leave with temporary parental benefit

6.       Leave with child-raising allowance

These cases are all addressed in following sections.

Leave is addressed in sections 10-15 and includes the notice employees are required to give their employer (two months in advance for those taking full-time or part-time leave; no advance is required when illness or infection is the reason for leave). These sections also give employees authority to decide their leave and/or reduced working hours.

Sections 16-17 prohibit any discrimination against job applicants and employees in manners related to parental leave. Section 19 prohibits physically-demanding work for pregnant employees.

Sections 21-25 deal with civil action and the procedure when employers violate the Parental Leave Act.

Evidence of Implementation Strategy

There is strong evidence of paternal and maternal leave being taken up; in 2013, nearly 340,000 fathers took parental
leave in some form – almost 90% of fathers. Women were reported at even higher numbers (2). However, the number of days taken off varies between men and women, and overall 44% of parental leave benefit recipients were men compared to 56% women (8). Even so, the proportion of total days used by men has slowly increased from 7% of all parental leave in 1989 to 25% in 2013 (8). Furthermore, the percentage of couples that share parental leave equitably
(40-60 or better) is slowly increasing (8), indicating a more equitable distribution of child-rearing that has benefits for mothers, fathers, and infants.

Cost and Cost-Effectiveness

In 2015, the increased parental leave was reported as 180 million SEK (USD $21.4 million) (9). The central government budget expenditure for “Financial Policy for Families” in 2015 was 82.9 billion SEK (USD $9.9 billion) (11).

Paid maternal leave has been shown to have significant benefits for the newborn child and his/her parents; a 2011 study of 141 countries with paid maternity leave showed as much as a 10% decrease in infant mortality (13). Paid maternity leave is more likely to increase the rate and duration of breastfeeding, reducing the risk of malnutrition and combating disease during the first months with the mother’s natural antibodies (12,14). In addition, infants are more likely to receive immunizations if a parent is at home (12). Mental health is impacted as well: a 2012 study reported women who took longer than 12 weeks paid maternity leave reported fewer depressive symptoms (15). Finally, paid maternity leave benefits the country and family economically; paid leave has been shown to increase labor force participation and productivity, as women can return to their jobs where they have already developed skills (16). Paid maternity leave clearly provides financial security for those who could not afford to take leave otherwise (16).

Perceptions and Experiences of Interested People

Sweden is widely regarded as having some of the most generous maternal leave legislation in the world by IBFAN, UNICEF and other such organizations (6).

A national social survey in 2012 reported that approximately 60% of Swedish respondents believe that paid leave should be split evenly between the mother and the father as compared to significantly lower percentages (40% or lower) responding this in other surveyed countries (17). This shows a general acceptance in Sweden of equitable paid paternity leave and equal investment in their child’s upbringing.

In an interview with Swedish residents, NPR’s Phil Reeves reports that Swedes say that one benefit of the equitable parental law is that employers have no disincentive when it comes to hiring women who may become pregnant in the near future (18). Despite the proclaimed equality in law, on the ground realities are not perfect; Swedes report that since men tend to have a higher income than women, men are less likely to take leave than women in order to provide the greater income overall for their families (18). Overall, however, women’s income has increased in the
past years in Sweden as well as levels of self-reported happiness (2).

Benefits and Potential Damages and Risks

While 78% of infants at one-week old are exclusively breastfed in Sweden, this number plummets to only 14% at 6 months (7). Thus, a risk may be large investment with negligible effects on optimal breastfeeding practices.  However, Sweden has incredible health outcomes; as mentioned they are ranked third in the world on Save the Children’s 15th annual Mother’s Index in 2014, which measures the well-being of mothers worldwide (5).

Scaling Up Considerations

  • A country needs to have the financial resources and structural set up to be able enact paid maternity leave for all its citizens.
  • Monitoring businesses to ensure they comply with the maternity leave legislation for their employees is crucial. Public awareness of this would help, as employees could self-report violations.

Barriers to Implement

Swedes report that since men tend to have a higher income than women, men are less likely to take leave than women in order to provide the greater income overall for their families (18).

Equity Considerations

Legislation in other countries must ensure to include equal amounts of maternity leave for adopting parents, unemployed parents, and for single-parent homes. This is the case in Sweden, where a full 480 days of paid parental leave are given to these constituents. 


  1. “Swedish Fathers to Get Third Month of Paid Paternity Leave” (2015). The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/28/swedish-fathers-paid-paternity-parental-leave
  2. “Why Swedish Men Take so Much Paternity Leave” (2014). The Economist. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/07/economist-explains-15
  3. Gender Equality in Sweden (2017). Swedish Institute. Retrieved from https://sweden.se/society/gender-equality-in-sweden/
  4. Allen, Sarah and Kerry Daly. “The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence” (2007). Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being: University of Guelph. Retrieved from http://www.fira.ca/cms/documents/29/Effects_of_Father_Involvement.pdf
  5. State of the World’s Mothers 2014. Save the Children. Retrieved from http://www.savethechildren.org/atf/cf/%7B9def2ebe-10ae-432c-9bd0-df91d2eba74a%7D/SOWM_2014.PDF
  6. Report on the Situation of Infant and Young Child Feeding in Sweden (2014). International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN). Retrieved from http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CRC/Shared%20Documents/SWE/INT_CRC_NGO_SWE_19075_E.pdf
  7. Statistics on Breastfeeding 2015 (published 2017). The National Board of Health and Welfare, Sweden. Retrieved from http://www.socialstyrelsen.se/Lists/Artikelkatalog/Attachments/20663/2017-9-5-english.pdf
  8. Duvander, Ann-Zofie et al. Country Notes: Sweden (2014). International Network on Leave Policies and Research. Retrieved from http://www.leavenetwork.org/fileadmin/Leavenetwork/Country_notes/2014/Sweden.pdf
  9. Reforms, Financing, and Budget Consolidation in the Budget Bill for 2015 (2015). Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from http://www.government.se/49c854/contentassets/6cee25213fe84e0495ea8115d9220c54/table-reforms-financing-and-budget-consolidation-in-the-budget-bill-for-2015
  10. Parental Leave Act (1995, 2015). Government Offices of Sweden. Retrieved from http://www.government.se/4ac87f/contentassets/d163a42edcea4638aa112f0f6040202b/sfs-1995584-parental-leave-act
  11. Social Insurance in Sweden (2015). Government Offices of Sweden: Ministry of Health and Social Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.government.se/495457/globalassets/government/dokument/socialdepartementet/socialinsuranceinsweden_august-2016.pdf
  12. Applebaum, E. and Ruth Milkman. “Leaves that Pay” (2011). Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University. Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/paid-family-leave-1-2011.pdf
  13. Dr. Heymann, J. et al. “Creating and Using New Data Sources to Analyze the Relationship Between Social Policy and Global Health: The Case of Maternal Leave” (2011). Public Health Reports. Retrieved from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150137/
  14. Breastfeeding (2017). UNICEF. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/nutrition/index_24824.html
  15. Chatterji, P. and Sara Markowitz. “Family Leave After Childbirth and the Mental Health of New Mothers” (2012). The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics 15: 61-76. Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/15-061_text.pdf
  16. The Economic Benefits of Paid Leave (2015). Democratic Staff of the Joint Economic Committee of the United States. Retrieved from  https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/646d2340-dcd4-4614-ada9-be5b1c3f445c/jec-fact-sheet---economic-benefits-of-paid-leave.pdf
  17. “Use of Childbirth-Related Leave by Mothers and Fathers” (2012). OECD - Social Policy Division - Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/els/family/PF2-2-Use-childbirth-leave.pdf 
  18. Killian, Erin.“Parental Leave: The Swedes Are the Most Generous” (2011). National Public Radio. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/babyproject/2011/08/09/139121410/parental-leave-the-swedes-are-the-most-generous

Submitted by Katie Doucet on June 01, 2018