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Fathers’ Experience of Shared Parental Leave in Sweden

Anders Chronholm
p. 9-25


Since the introduction of the Swedish parental leave reform in 1974, fathers have had the same rights to use parental leave as mothers. Between 2000 and 2003, a research project at the Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, focused on fathers who had taken more than four months of paid parental leave. The approach of the study was mainly qualitative, based upon a combination of a survey and interviews. A majority of the fathers who answered the questionnaire had been the main caregivers for their children during their parental leave. During the interviews many of the men described their mothers as role models for their fatherhood. The men also described their own partner as both anxious to get back to her work after her own parental leave period and convinced of the importance of a nurturing father. An early decision to take part of the parental leave probably made it easier for the men to reach workplace agreements. Most of the men described themselves as both nurturing fathers and as sharing housework equally. They stressed the importance of being alone with their child during a long period, to be able to develop a deep relationship with their child.

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I. Working mothers - caring fathers

1The balance between work and family life has been a central issue in political debates in Sweden for a long time. This not only concerns the mother’s situation but also the father’s. In Sweden the role of the father as the main breadwinner began to change during the 1960s and 1970s. The Swedish public sector grew during this time, which led to new employment possibilities for women. Political ideals spread in Sweden during this period as well, advocating women’s rights to employment and thereby the same possibilities to be providers as men (Klinth, 2002). This ideological shift towards more equal gender roles also implied a new role for the father. In general the Swedish father was expected to share responsibility for childcare and domestic tasks with the mother, at least if both the parents were providers. The father’s new caring role consequently was related to the degree to which the mother was sharing the provider role.

2In the 1960s it was very unusual for Swedish fathers to take part in childcare. Only 1% of fathers took part in childcare when the children were small and 14% when the children were a bit older. This had completely changed by the beginning of the nineties when 85% of fathers took part in childcare (Kvinnomaktutredningen, 1998). One of the main reasons for fathers’ increasing involvement in childcare has probably been the development of the Swedish parental leave system. However, the effects of the parental leave reform on male involvement were rather limited during the first decades after its introduction.

II. The Swedish parental leave reform

3In 1974 the Swedish maternal leave was changed into a system of parental insurance. Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a parental leave giving both parents the same possibilities of staying at home with their child. Parental insurance was regarded as a part of the Swedish welfare system and financed by the State. In the beginning it covered a period of six months and provided parents with a financial allowance that compensated them for 90% of their loss of income. If their incomes were above a maximum level however, the allowance became less than 90%.

4The allowance was paid if the parents had been employed for at least nine months just before the birth of their child, or for twelve months during the previous two years. Otherwise they were only eligible for an allowance at a lower guaranteed level, approximately seven euros a day. The 1974 parental leave reform gave fathers the possibility of sharing the parental leave with the mother, in addition to ten days of paid paternal leave to be taken within the first month following childbirth. Ten extra days of temporary parental benefit per year also included in the 1974 parental leave reform aimed at caring for a sick child. Those days too could be used by either parent (Bekkengen, 1996).

5How to share the six months of parental leave was up to parents to decide but it was also a matter of arranging time off work. In 1979 this was made easier when parents were granted the legal right to stay at home and care for their children up to the age of 18 months. The year before, in 1978, parental leave was extended to nine months of paid leave and in 1980 it was extended once more, to twelve months. Nine months were paid at a level of 90% of an eligible parent’s salary and three months at the lower guarantee level. In 1989, parental leave was extended once again to twelve months at full pay and three months at the lower rate. Half of this period was reserved for each parent making it possible to choose whether to use the whole share or transfer parts of it to the other parent. From that year on it also became possible to save parts of the parental leave and use it anytime until the child had reached the age of eight years or finished the first year in school. In 1995, the allowances were reduced to 80% of the parents’ wage (rfv, 1998).

6Although Swedish mothers have been using most of the parental leave, the father’s part has been slowly increasing since the introduction of parental leave in 1974. The statistics available below show the percentage of the total amount of paid parental leave days used by women and men between 1974 and 2005 (see Table 1). While the fathers’ share of paid parental leave days has been increasing during the three decades of parental leave, the fathers’ proportion of temporary parental leave benefit during the same period has been rather high all along. The total amount of temporary parental leave days was extended from 10 days per family and year in 1974 to 60 days per child and year in 1980 (Berggren, 2005). Accordingly, the temporary parental leave benefit became related to each child instead of the whole family. Particularly for more than one child families, this considerably improved the possibility of staying at home to care for sick children.

7As to fathers and mothers sharing parental leave, a relevant factor is the increasing number of children living in single parent families. Between the years 1985 and 1995, the share of children living in single parent families in Sweden increased from 13 to 18 percent (Regeringen, 2000). That a large majority of single parent families in Sweden consist of a mother and child makes it possible to recognise main patterns of fatherhood : the absent father and the caring father. Both of these categories are represented in the official statistics, resulting in lower shares for fathers than if only two-parent families were analysed.

Table 1 : Percentage of parental leave days used by women and men per year.

Parental leave benefit

Temporary parental leave benefit





























































Statistiska Centralbyrån (SCB). Statistics Sweden 2006.

8Prior to 1995 it was possible for parents to transfer all of their parental leave to the other parent, resulting in about half of fathers giving their share to the mothers. The so-called “father month” reform, which made one paid month non-transferable for children born since 1995 has encouraged more fathers to use parental leave. For children born since 1995, 77% of fathers have used parental leave before the child reached 4 years of age (rfv, 2000). An extra non-transferable month was introduced in the beginning of 2002. As a result, the share of parental leave days used by men increased during the following years.

III. Swedish fathers taking long parental leave

A. Background to the study

9Official debates during the nineties, when the average share for fathers’ use of parental leave stayed around 10 percent, even after the introduction of the “fathers’ month” in 1995, tended to strengthen rather negative attitudes toward Swedish fathers, as unwilling to assume their responsibility as parents.

10Letting the mother take the main part of parental leave and hence become the primary caregiver can confusedly give the impression that the father is not willing to accept this responsibility. Research results show, however, that some Swedish mothers do not always trust fathers to be as good a caregiver as they consider themselves to be (Hwang, 1985 ; Bäck-Wiklund/Bergsten, 1997). A majority of Swedish mothers simply want to stay at home during parental leave and very much enjoy doing so (Haas, 1992). This makes it more difficult for fathers to prove that they can be as good and as caring a parent as mothers, and probably leads ambivalent and unmotivated fathers to leave child care responsibilities to the mothers.

11Accordingly more research is needed to find alternative examples of fatherhood, to find out whether there exist motivated fathers willing to share the responsibilities of parental leave equally with mothers.

12During the years 2000-2003, a study of fathers’ experiences of extended parental leave was carried out made at Gothenburg University. From the Swedish National Insurance Office (rfv) we received data about 4400 fathers who have used at least 120 days of paid parental leave for children born in Gothenburg between the years 1992 and 1999.

13A random sample of 700 fathers was made. They received questionnaires distributed in 2001. Because of the relatively low response rate, calls were made to 200 of the fathers who had not filled out the questionnaire. Many of these fathers admitted that they had been taking parental leave without being the main caregivers for their children ; some of them said that it was mainly for financial reasons. They had not, therefore, seen any reason to answer the questionnaire. Before 1995, parents could use the parental leave allowance any day of the year, whether or not they normally would have been working. Couples could thus take advantage of the system by using the father’s higher allowance while still letting the mother care for the child.

14However, those were not the kind of fathers we were mainly interested in, as we wanted to focus on the “caring” fathers who had spent their parental leave as the main caregivers of their children. In the end, our survey focused on 188 fathers who had fully filled out the questionnaire. Those fathers had been spending relatively long periods of time with their children. Both Swedish-born and immigrant fathers were represented. The study’s approach was mainly qualitative, based upon a combination of a survey and interviews. The purpose of the questionnaire was both to get background information on the fathers and to find fathers who would be willing to take part in an interview. The results presented here mainly come from this questionnaire and 19 of the interviews made after the survey.

B. Equality discussions and early decisions

15The decision to take a long period of parental leave seems for many of the men to result both from their wish to be nurturing fathers and from equality discussions with their partner. Among the 188 fathers who answered our questionnaire, all were living together with the mother of the child during their parental leave and 67 percent were married. Almost all the fathers described both their partner and themselves as very anxious to share the parental leave.

16Research from the Swedish National Insurance Office has shown that sharing parental leave equally not only is a question of motivated fathers but also depends on women being willing to stay home shorter time periods to give men the same opportunities to be with their child. An investigation directed at 4000 couples after their parental leave shows that more women than men are satisfied with an unequal usage of the parental leave. While 18 percent of the fathers would have preferred a more equal sharing, only 13 percent of the mothers would have preferred this (rfv, 2003). «Women take the great majority of the leave, and women normally have the final say on how it should be divided in couples» (Bygren/Duvander, 2005 :18).

17Most couples in our study had discussed how to share the parental leave before or during the pregnancy. During the interviews, the men describe their partner as both anxious to get back to her work after her own parental leave period and convinced of the importance of a nurturing father. The positive attitudes fathers encountered in their partner can be regarded as important in their decision to share parental leave, which accordingly is a result of both parents being motivated rather than of one party trying to convince the other.

18If the construction of parenthood is not consciously discussed and negotiated by the parents, it is probable that the mother becomes the primary caregiver for the child and assumes the central position in the family (Holter/Aarseth, 1994). Today Swedish mothers are combining employment with caring for their children, which they regard as something natural ; that fathers can do the same seems not yet to have become a cultural convention (Kugelberg, 1999). The child’s birth can be seen as introducing a third person, making the couple-relationship into a triangular-relationship. If the couple is not prepared for this change in their relationship, for example, through constructive discussions over their new roles as mother and father, they will more or less unconsciously reproduce the only parental pattern they have ever really experienced ; their relationships with their own parents. If the man had an absent father he probably needs support from his partner to be able to construct a new kind of fatherhood. Most young mothers on the other hand, are almost unconsciously able to reproduce a caring motherhood.

19Our results show that several factors have had some influence on a couple’s decision to share parental leave. The possibility of developing their relationship with their children was regarded as important by 94 percent of the fathers who answered our questionnaire. 65 percent of the fathers also found the possibility of their partner’s studying or working an important factor. 49 percent of the fathers thought that equality reasons were important in their decision. More than half of the fathers also experienced positive attitudes toward parental leave at their workplace, about a third had encountered a neutral attitude, and the others had experienced negative attitudes.

20One problem many Swedish companies still face is a conservative attitude towards fatherhood. Three different attitudes have been found in a study of the 200 largest Swedish companies (Haas/Hwang, 2000). About one-third of the companies showed passive opposition to an active fatherhood, taking for granted that men leave the responsibility for their children to their wives. About two-thirds of the companies had developed a more positive attitude but still mainly by compromising with their employees rather than by supporting their decision to take parental leave. Only 3% of the companies were actively supporting fathers in taking parental leave.

21Among the fathers in our study half were working in the private sector and a third in the public sector ; some also had their own companies, studied or were unemployed. During the nineties, the public sector in Sweden employed one third of the manpower. As a majority of these were women, the men employed in the public sector can be regarded as overrepresented in our study (Chronholm, 2004).

C. Constructing fatherhood

22Many of the men in our study speak of an early commitment to their fatherhood projects, taking part in different activities concerning the pregnancy and taking an active part in the nurturing of the child from its birth onward. When they started their own parental leave they were already involved as nurturing fathers. However the relationship to the child becomes different when the father spends longer periods of time with the child, as one of the fathers explains :

I was close to my children even before I took parental leave. But I think it’s different to be at home all day. There is a kind of development in your relationship to the child ; it becomes closer. I feel that all the time I have been alone with my children, when I am the only one there for them and obviously responsible for helping them, I think it changes the relationship. That’s obvious (Chronholm, 2004 :145).

23For one of the foreign-born fathers, the main difference in being alone with the child was that he wouldn’t have had the same chance of developing such a close relationship had the child’s mother been home :

When you are alone with your child, as I am now while my wife is studying, then I can do the things I could not if she were at home. When I am alone with my child and she starts to cry I can take care of her. If my wife were home she would take the child directly, before I had the chance to do anything (Chronholm, 2004 :147).

24Most of the men became the main caregivers of their children rather early ; about 90 percent of the fathers began their parental leave during the first 12 months of their children’s life.

Table 2 : The age of the child in months when the father began his parental leave. Percent (n : 179).

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Table 3 : Number of hours the fathers on average were alone with their children each day during their parental leave. Percent (n : 188).




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2579 percent of the fathers who answered the questionnaire had been alone with their children six hours or more per day during their parental leave. The fathers not only experienced a closer relationship to their child but also a new kind of responsibility. One of the fathers explained that he had had rather romantic and idealised expectations before his parental leave but that he had come to realize :

That I am fundamental for their whole being. If they are going to feel all right, everything’s up to me, there’s a kind of mental heaviness falling upon you when you realise the great responsibility (Chronholm, 2004 :146).

26Our survey shows that 50 percent of the women worked full time during the father’s parental leave and about twenty percent worked part time. Of the women who were not working during the man’s parental leave, more than half were studying. While all of the fathers had used at least 120 parental leave days, half of them had used 180 or more days, thus as much as the child’s mother ore even more. A majority of the fathers were alone with their children six hours or more each day, which shows that they also had the responsibility as main caregivers for their children. Many of the fathers also stressed the importance of this responsibility in their development of a close relationship to the child. They seem to be aware of the problems in realising new fatherhood ideals many Swedish fathers encounter when they are not availing themselves of the possibility of sharing parental leave equally with the mothers.

27If the fathers are using just a part of their parental leave during vacation time, as some Swedish fathers are doing (rfv, 1998), they probably consider the mother the primary caregiver. When both parents are home together, the father does not have the same possibility of feeling responsible for caring for the child he would if he stayed home while the child’s mother worked. When the mother is at home she is probably the main carer for the child. Even if the father is spending a lot of time with the child in different caring activities, under those circumstances he probably does not feel an equal responsibility in caring for the child, compared to the mother, who in using the main part of the parental leave, already has become the expert.

28Nearly half of the fathers began their parental leave when their child was under six months old, and only ten percent waited until the child was one year old or more. Accordingly, for most of the fathers, the parental leave meant having the main responsibility of caring for infants. Our results show that most of the fathers stress the importance of an early relationship to their child, and that many of them were able to establish that because their partners returned to work right after the first period of breast-feeding. Thus the combination of male child-orientation and female work-orientation seems to be the most common pattern among the couples in our study.

D. A second generation fatherhood discourse

29Today, one generation after the introduction of parental leave and other family policy reforms, the discourse of the “caring and nurturing” father can to a certain extent be regarded as a “second generation discourse”. This is one of the conclusions of a comparative study of fathers in Britain and Sweden (Kearney et al., 2000). Some of the fathers in the Swedish sample «were able to identify many aspects of involved fathering in their own fathers behaviour and thinking» (Kearney et al., 2000 :49). They therefore found these ideals natural, and were positive towards equality in the family. As has been established in earlier research, this does not mean that Swedish fathers are doing half of the work traditionally associated with women in the home. As many Swedish men are positive about gender equality mainly in a theoretical way but are not always able to show this by their actions, they have been called «the in principle man» (Jalmert, 1984).

30Among the fathers in our study, the majority were not «able to identify many aspects of involved fathering» at least not in their own father’s behaviour. About a third of the fathers answering our survey were born in the 1950s or earlier, and more than half of the men were born in the 1960s. The majority accordingly were born before the introduction of parental leave in 1974 and were brought up during a period when it still was common to have a male breadwinner and a housewife as the main child carer.

31The men were asked to compare themselves with their own parents. Most of the men answering the questionnaire did not regard themselves as inspired by their own fathers. In the interviews they explain that their fathers were traditional breadwinners, leaving mothers the main responsibility for children. As many of them had a mother staying at home to care for them until they started school, their own fathers did not have the same opportunities to develop close relationships with his children. Even if they can find reasons for their own fathers’ behaviour, they seem to be anxious not to become the same kind of fathers themselves. They see themselves as mainly practising a kind of fatherhood they did not experience in their own childhood (Chronholm, 2004). Thus they find themselves more closely related to their children and engaged in caring responsibilities right from the birth of their child.

32During the interviews many of the men describe their mothers as role models for their fatherhood. Instead of reproducing the kind of parenthood represented by their fathers, they seem to be anxious to include a “maternal function” in their own fatherhood (Chodorow, 1999). Including a maternal principle in the fatherhood project not only means getting closer to the child, but may also involve more equal relationship with women. Male attitudes often include a «partial conflict with this maternal principle», leading to difference and dominance in relation to women (Johnson, 1988 :155). Accordingly, the experiences and the consequences of the father’s parental leave can be analysed both in terms of gender equality and in relation to masculinities (Connell, 1995, 2000).

33For many of the men, the practices of fatherhood during parental leave seem not to differ very much from motherhood. In their relation to the child and their nurturing practices, many of the men seem to regard themselves as gender-neutral parents. In the questionnaire the men were asked to give their opinion on whether they thought that fathers and mothers should have different tasks or not. About two thirds of the men did not think so. However, many of them could still find differences between themselves and women on parental leave. During the interviews, some of them described how they had been the only fathers on parental leave in their neighbourhood and that they sometimes missed the contact with other fathers. They noted that many of the women on parental leave would engage in conversation about female experiences such as pregnancy and breast-feeding. Those of the men who had contact with other fathers during their parental leave also described their activities during the parental leave as different from women’s activities.

34As both the survey and the interviews took place a few years after the parental leave, the men were also able to describe the development of their fatherhood as their children grew older. Fathers of both daughters and sons describe how they have tried not to push their children into dominant gender patterns. As an example, some of them said that they had bought both male and female toys to let their children choose. However, most of the fathers seemed proud to tell us that at an early age, their children had started to behave like boys or girls. As the children grew older, the fathers through interaction with their children, also seem to have developed more gender-specialised aspects of their fatherhood. Yet they also seem to have kept up the closeness and intimacy with their children that they had founded during their parental leave. In this sense they do not seem to regard themselves as different from the mothers.

35Even if parents may be trying to behave in the same way, earlier Swedish research has shown that gender still matters, and that boys and girls react differently to father’s and mother’s parenting «Although gender matters, it paradoxically seems to have good effects on their children when parents act as if gender did not matter» (Sandqvist, 1996 :169). If fathers are involved emotionally, stimulating social competence in their children by playing with them, Sandqvist has found that they, in particular, can facilitate daughters’ cognitive growth. The same effect can be noticed when mothers play with their sons.

36The nurturing father can also be considered an important alternative role model for boys growing up with conservative masculine ideals presented by the media and toy industry. Adopting parental patterns that have mainly been reserved for women can be seen as an important part of the social construction of fatherhood, creating new possibilities of developing deep relationships with the children and the partner.

E. Housework as a part of parental responsibilities

37The fathers’ experiences of parental leave also include sharing housework. Family life changes continually after the birth of a first child, and the division of labour at home is continually recreated (Deutsch, 1999). Earlier studies of men taking parental leave show both men concentrating on child care, leaving the main part of the housework to women (Brandth/Kvande, 1998), and men trying to share both child care and housework more equally (Huttunen, 1996). Our study shows that many of the men have been trying to share housework equally both before and during their parental leave. Some of them think that the parental leave has made them more conscious about the extent of housework, thereby leading to a more equal sharing. Others find that their sharing of housework is based on agreements made before they had their first child (Chronholm, 2004).

38Some of the men stress egalitarian ideology, and others see the sharing of housework as natural without referring to special ideals. A majority of the men describe a sharing based on both specialisation and co-operation. For example, the man may have the main responsibility for cooking, leaving the responsibility for cleaning to the woman and sharing the laundry. An equal distribution of tasks also seems to be related to feelings of pleasure and distaste. If one of the parents prefers one task that the other dislikes, it motivates a specialisation ; if both parents dislike a certain task, they may instead share responsibility for it. Many of the men describe principles for sharing domestic labour that show reciprocal patterns, where mutuality is the basic principle for an equal partnership rather than using yardsticks (Björnberg/Kollind, 2002).

39During their parental leave many of the men took more responsibility for housework than they usually did during the time both parents were at home. To find out more in detail how the sharing of different tasks in the home was organised during the fathers’ parental leave, they were asked to estimate how much they did other work at home, in addition to the direct care of the child. About 90 percent of the fathers answered that they did some of the cooking, laundry and cleaning during their parental leave. More than half of the men answered that they did a lot of cooking, half of the men did a lot of laundry, and less than half did a lot of cleaning. In general the Swedish-born fathers did more housework than the 22 percent of men who were immigrant fathers (Chronholm, 2002).

40Official Swedish statistics show that women are spending less time doing housework compared with the seventies and that men are spending more time. However the total time women spend on housework has been decreasing more than the time men spend has been increasing. The time spent with domestic work per week decreased for women from 32 hours in 1974 to 19 hours in 1991 while increasing for men from two to five hours (Ahrne/Roman, 1997). During the following ten years the time men did spend with housework hardly changed at all while the time women did spend decreased another four and a half hours per week (scb, 2002).

41Swedish researchers have found that for Swedish couples «Efficiency is more important than the exact and gender neutral distribution of work tasks» (Bäck-Wiklund/Bergsten, 1997 :38). Another important factor in the negotiations over the distribution of work tasks is the emotional strength of the bond between the parents. If couples are satisfied with the effective strength of their relationship, they also tend to find the distribution of roles and responsibilities in the family satisfying (Kearney et al., 2000).

42To stay at home with the child while the other parent is working also normally includes more responsibility for housework. At least it is expected from women, who in most cases are the ones who choose or are forced to take on that responsibility. That men are not always willing to include housework in their duties when they take parental leave has been shown in earlier research (Brandth/Kvande, 1998).

43In our study we have focused on men who have been taking longer periods of parental leave, which might explain why these fathers are more concerned about their responsibilities regarding housework. One of the most important experiences for some of the fathers in our study was that during their parental leave they came to realise that responsibility for housework could be regarded as a part of their parenthood. «I took more responsibility for cleaning during my parental leave. It was because I didn’t want my child to be crawling in dust ; it’s because of the child you know, I was worried about him suffering allergies», one of the fathers told us.

44The men also explained that the parental leave opened their eyes to how much time is actually needed to do daily housework. As one of the fathers said : «When I started to stay home, I realised that I had to work like a maniac all the time, with the only result being that the home looked normal when my wife got back from work».

45Being alone with their children for more than four months while the women worked full time and came home tired thus gave these men new insights into housework. As long as women do the main part of this kind of work, men don’t get the chance to realise what it is all about. «If men cannot see the tasks, they are unable to take part in them» (Fassinger, 1993 :211).

46Even though most of the fathers in our study seem to regard daily housework like cooking, laundry and cleaning as gender-neutral, during the interviews, they also described some obligations in the home as female or male tasks. The women seem to have the main responsibility for buying the children’s clothes and for decorating the home, thus for tasks connected with taste and consumption. Many of the men instead have the main responsibility for male tasks connected with practical skills, like repairs in the home and gardening or car care. A similar gendered distribution of tasks among emancipated couples sharing both childcare and housework has also been found among Dutch couples where the fathers worked part-time to be able to be at home with their children (Duindam, 1997).

47While most of the men in our study regard themselves as both nurturing fathers and as sharing housework equally, they accordingly also have some male specialties. For the majority of these men, a gender difference in itself is not seen as something negative as long as it does not threaten the couple’s way of defining equality. Accordingly, their emancipation seems not to be based on the kind of “facile equations” which expect that «equality means sameness, difference means inequality» (Kimmel, 1996 :334).

IV. Conclusions

48In the Swedish ideological debate three main different reasons emerge urging fathers to take parental leave : equality between men and women, the child’s right to be with both parents and the possibility of changing traditional gender stereotypes. The equality debate is focused on the need for equal employment opportunities for women. Equal distribution of different domestic tasks between women and men can also be seen as a goal in itself, but it is also a condition for reaching equality in the society as a whole. Especially from a feministic point of view it has been regarded as important that fathers take parental leave so as to give mothers more equal possibilities in the society (Bekkengen, 1996).

49The right of the child to have a close relationship with both the mother and father has been a central issue in family policy debate since the 1970s, resulting in a joint custody rule for both married and unmarried parents in 1983. The official Swedish view is that a child needs to maintain ties to both parents after divorce or separation. The traditional view, regarding fathers as important role models for boys has been questioned, as research results show that fathers are also important in girls’ development (Sandqvist, 1996).

50The third central issue in the debate over the parental leave involves possibilities of changing traditional gender stereotypes. Changing the traditional masculine role has been seen as important both for the men themselves and for society (Bekkengen, 1996). Fathers taking an active part in childcare can be seen as a first step towards this goal. A stronger relationship between father and child does not, however, automatically lead to equal distribution of all domestic tasks related to family life (Björnberg, 1998).

51As fatherhood is constructed not only through the interaction between the father and his child but also through the co-operation between parents, the different roles of fathers can be analysed as resulting from different family cultures. The family culture, however, is developed under structural conditions related to the different possibilities for men and women to make their contribution to the family economy. In this way an unequal labour market reproduces more traditional family cultures that, in the end, give the father less possibility of developing a close relationship with his children. The construction of fatherhood can be seen as continuous interaction on structural, cultural and psychological levels.

52Accordingly, to follow the ideals of the new fatherhood is not only a matter of personal motivation. Even if fathers would like to spend more time doing unpaid work at home, such as domestic tasks and childcare, it is not always possible. Many young parents in Sweden today have to grapple with economic matters first, to be able to reach a “normal” family standard. As men generally earn higher salaries than women (Hörnqvist, 1997), the most common solution is to let fathers become primary breadwinners working full-time, with mothers employed part-time so as to be able to take the main responsibility for unpaid work, at least while the children are small (Rydenstam, 1993). Research results also show that when mothers earn more than fathers, it is more common for fathers to take responsibility for domestic tasks and childcare (Roman, 1992).

53Gender equality can be seen from the women’s point of view, making the fathers’ engagement in domestic work and child care necessary, thereby releasing women from the “second shift” and giving them more equal possibilities in the labour market. It can also be seen as providing the possibility of men having equal chances of developing close relationships with their children, including some aspects of parenthood which have traditionally has been considered feminine, such as caring for small children. This has mainly been seen as an important change in traditional masculine attitudes, which may allow men to develop themselves (Björnberg, 1998). To describe this development of a new father role in terms of “men having become more like women” however is problematic because it may be seen as normative and focuses on old gender patterns instead of new possibilities (Sandqvist, 1993).

54Parental leave gives parents the possibility of being alone with their child and developing an intimate and close relationship. The existing gender patterns in Sweden often result in a parenting model where mothers become primary caregivers and fathers secondarily, resulting in less opportunities for fathers to create a close relationship to their child. Our results show that an equal sharing of parental leave is a way of introducing fathers to the responsibilities of both childcare and housework. Among the fathers answering our questionnaire, 95 percent thought that their parental leave resulted in a closer relationship to their child while 44 percent found that it led them to assume a more equal distribution of housework. Also 70 percent answered that their parental leave had a positive effect on their partners’ possibilities for work or study.

55Even if existing gender patterns take a long time to change, the Swedish parental leave system may well be an important factor stimulating gender equality both inside and outside the family. The fathers’ experiences of shared parental leave described in our study seem to confirm these possibilities.

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Anders Chronholm

Skövde University, Sweden.

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