In a significant step, new family leave laws in Finland aim to give a parental leave of seven months or 164 “daily allowance days” each. The country currently allows four months of maternity leave, and two months of paternity leave.
This major shift in policy aims to prioritize children’s welfare a by promoting gender equality and inclusivity for same-sex couples, and encouraging fathers to take as much time off work as mothers.
Set to take effect in 2021, the new policy will allow parents to transfer 69 of their own quota to the other parent. Single parents will be granted 328 days of leave. And during pregnancy, the mother can already receive one month of pregnancy allowance before the parental leave starts.
In a statement, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Minister of Social Affairs and Health, said, “The model guarantees the child a place at the center of family benefits and promotes wellbeing and gender equality. This enables better equality between parents and diversity among families.”
In addition to giving both parents equal and more time with their newborn, the new policy also eliminates gender-specific allotments, thus allowing gender-neutral language that’s “suitable for all families.”
The new government policy will apply to all parents, regardless of gender or whether they are a child’s biological or adoptive parents. This will bring a major change in attitudes as well as ease the lives of diverse families. Pekonen shared, “The reform will support all kinds of families and ensure equal leaves for children regardless of the form of the family.”
While improving gender equality, the radical reform also aims to boost a declining birth rate. Records indicate a continuous decrease in the number of babies born in Finland in the past nine years.
In 2019, 45,597 babies were born in the country, the lowest recorded number of births since a famine struck in 1868. Extending parental leave for fathers is seen as a way to address declining birth rates in many developed nations.
The change in policy comes at a time of remarkable change in leadership in Finland. Its new Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, is 34 years old and is the world’s youngest sitting prime minister. Marin heads Finland’s governing coalition of five parties, which, amazingly enough, are all led by young women mostly under the age of 35.
The position of these women at the helm of government illustrates the momentous strides made in gender equality in Finland.
The new policy, though, is still not as generous as parental leave granted in Sweden, which gives 480 days, or 240 days each, to a couple. Parents can choose to transfer as many days as they can, though they need to keep 90 days for themselves. This means that families can have a significant time off if they want to maximize their parental leave.
Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Estonia, and Portugal were deemed the best countries with family-friendly policies in a 2019 UNICEF report that analyzed such policies in 31 rich countries. Among these countries, the United States was the only country that, at the time, had no paid leave for mothers or fathers.
Though the US passed a measure providing federal workers with 12 weeks of parental leave in December 2019, it remains the only country in the analysis with no nationwide laws on paid parental leave.
Prime Minister Marin stated that Finnish social policies could be a model for the US, despite the differences in social and political atmospheres. She said, “I feel that the American Dream can be achieved best in the Nordic countries, where every child no matter their background or the background of their families can become anything, because we have a very good education system. We have a good health-care and social welfare system that allows anybody to become anything. This is probably one of the reasons why Finland gets ranked the happiest country in the world.”
She added, “We have an aging population, and we need people to come to Finland, to work there and to raise their children and take part in making our society better.”
The measure was first explored in 2018, but the previous government deemed it too expensive. With the increased leave estimated to cost 100 million euros (about $110 million), Finland’s new leadership is ready to push gender equality into the forefront of government policy.