We're constantly told that the Nordic countries do life better than the rest of us and, clearly, given the popularity of the area's fashion, design and apparently superior ways of living, many of us are buying it. But there's another, less glamorous, aspect of the much-fetishised region's culture that the rest of the world should consider adopting: its gender-equal approach to parenting.
Data suggests there's just one country in the developed world where dads spend more time with their school-age kids than mums and – surprise, surprise – it's the Nordic nation of Finland. According to a recent report from the OECD cited by the Guardian, dads spend eight minutes more than mums with their school-aged offspring each day.
But what really sets it apart, the Guardian reports, is the focus on what's best for children rather than adults. There's a greater emphasis in the country on a child's right to spend time with both parents, ergo the role of fathers in child development is considered vital. It's hardly a groundbreaking conclusion, but this strong belief, coupled with policies and a culture that actually make stay-at-home fatherhood doable, have proven to be a winning combination.
Finnish children are consistently rated as some of the happiest, smartest and most well-adjusted in the world and countless articles have been written about the phenomenon over the years: "The Secret to Finland's Success With Schools, Moms, Kids—and Everything," is one typical headline.
The nitty-gritty of the country's paternity leave policy means that new dads get a pretty sweet deal. They're eligible for nine weeks of leave on 70% of their salary, compared to around four months for mothers, and the couple then gets an extra five-plus months of paid parental leave to share between them. Once the parental leave is over, one parent can then stay home and receive €450 a month and go back to their job until their child turns three.
In the UK, new mothers are typically entitled to 52 weeks of leave, with 39 of them on statutory maternity pay of at least £140 a week. New fathers, by contrast, are only eligible for up to two weeks paid leave – anything more must be negotiated with their employer and won't necessarily be paid.
Thanks to Nick Clegg, there's also the option for dads in Britain to take between two and 26 extra weeks off, with those weeks subtracted from their partner's remaining maternity leave, and parents can even take their leave at the same time. All this sounds as progressive as Scandinavia, but in practice it's not really working, with around half of fathers saying they wouldn't take up their parental leave.
New parents in Finland generally receive more state support than elsewhere. Another example is the country's "baby box" scheme, which provides parents with free essential items – including a sleeping bag, mattress, and toiletries, all in gender-neutral tones. Natch. The scheme has been credited with contributing to the country's infant mortality rate, which is currently the lowest in the world.
As their child gets older, Finnish parents are able to return to work with the help of a system of state-provided affordable universal childcare, which, from this side of the North Sea, looks unbelievably generous. It costs just €290 a month at most and the authorities sort it out for you – compared with a London average of over £600 a month and the well-documented nightmare of finding a place for your child.
Not only does the government help working parents, but companies in Finland also tend to be more accommodating than those elsewhere. Working hours tend to be earlier, from around 8am to 4 or 5pm, making it much easier to combine a career with parenthood.
But all this isn't to say that Finland is an egalitarian utopia. Women still spend more time with preschool-age children (71 minutes), for instance, and the pay gap remains similar to the UK and US's at 16% to 18%, depending on the measure used. A large number of fathers also choose not to take up the generous paternity leave on offer – while most take the first three weeks, only about half take the full two months. But even then, there's a campaign in place – "It's Daddy Time" – urging more men to take up the benefit. Theresa May and co., take note.
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