Before the advent of the second wave of feminism (in the 1960s and 70s), women were pushed to choose between motherhood and a professional career. The second wave of feminism sought to change by arguing that women, like men, are entitled to be devoted parents as well as professionals in their chosen career field. While this idea is widely accepted in theory in contemporary American society, the practical framework that would allow for workplace and parenting equality is not firmly established. Although 70 percent of American children are raised in households in which both parents work, the parental leave policies that are set in place are limited, at best.
What does this mean for contemporary American families? For many families, this means that new mothers take (often unpaid) time off from work, reduce their hours to part-time indefinitely, or leave their job. Their male partners, on the other hand, often take on more work hours in order to make up the difference in paycheck. While this may allow the family to remain economically afloat during an emotionally and financially turbulent period, this division of household labor is not necessarily satisfying for those involved.
Sweden has implemented a solution that allows families more options regarding division of labor. Out of the 480 paid days off per child, 60 are allocated specifically to the father, and the family is able to divide the remaining days in whatever way they deem fit. This gives both parents an opportunity to rest, bond with their child, and return to the workforce, if they so choose. By offering both new parents family leave, Sweden has allowed new families to figure out how to raise their children without having to give up their careers. In essence, Swedish families are able to have their cake and eat it too. Perhaps, in the upcoming years, the United States will reach a point in which American families can do the same.
-Co-authored by Hannah Abrahamson and Emily Burns,
Ohio University Women’s Center Staff