Family leaves for fathers: Non-users as a test for parental leave reforms

The proportion of total parental leave days taken by fathers has increased in all Nordic countries almost hand in hand with parental leave reforms. However, the average pattern of fathers’ parental leave uptake hides the fact that a considerable proportion of fathers use no parental leave, even when they are earmarked for the father. In this study, we focus on the proportion and characteristics of non-users, that is, fathers who do not use parental leave. We distinguish two non-user groups: fathers who use no parental leave, not even birth-related leave and fathers who do not use the father’s quota. This distinction is relevant because it reflects the design and institutional status of fathers’ parental leave. Further, factors related to using no parental leave are likely to be somewhat different to those related to not using the father’s quota. In Finland, the father’s quota was introduced in 2003, but it became fully independent leave for the father only in 2013. We also investigate if the 2013 reform was followed by any changes in fathers’ parental leave use and in the profiles of non-users. We use a unique longitudinal register data that covers practically (fathers to) all children born in 2010–2015 and follow parental leave use until 2018. We find that the 2013 reform was followed by a considerable increase in the uptake of the father’s quota. The proportion of fathers who used no parental leave remained stable, but the reform encouraged some fathers to take longer, independent leave in addition to the birth-related leave. Overall, less educated and low-income fathers were less likely to use any parental leave, and if they took leave, they were more likely to use only the birth-related leave. However, the 2013 reform slightly diminished socioeconomic disparities in the use of the father’s quota.