How long is a parental leave and for whom? An analysis of methodological and policy dimensions of leave length and division in Sweden
Parental leave in Sweden can be taken both as paid and unpaid leave and often parents mix these forms in a very flexible way. Therefore, multiple methodological issues arise regarding how to measure leave length in the most accurate way. This study reviews the somewhat complex legislation and the possible ways of using the leave before presenting a successful attempt of a more precise measure of leave lengths, including paid and unpaid days, for mothers and fathers. The study makes use of administrative data for a complete cohort of parents to first born children in 2009 in Sweden. We examine what characteristics are associated with use of paid and unpaid leave for mothers and fathers during the first two years of the child’s life, focusing particularly on how individual and household income is associated with leave patterns. We found that among mothers, low income is associated with many paid leave days while middle income is associated with most unpaid days. High income mothers use a shorter leave. Among fathers it is the both ends with high and low household income that uses most paid and unpaid leave. A measure that includes unpaid parental leave will be important to not underestimate the parental leave and to not make faulty comparisons between groups by gender and by socioeconomic status. A measure of parental leave including both paid and unpaid leave will also facilitate international comparisons of leave length.