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Which Countries Have The Best Paternity Leave

Leave policies for new fathers differ widely around the world — and some men still worry they'll be perceived as less masculine if they take time off after having a kid. But change iis coming, and in some places where you might not expect.

Image of a father watching his child play with water, carrying a child on his back, and holding his other kid's hand.

A father watching his child play with water.

Renate Mattar

PARIS — When we think of the countries worldwide which offer the best paternity leave, the Nordic countries immediately come to mind: Finland, Sweden, Norway. There's a good reason for that: after the birth of their child, Finnish fathers can take paternity leave for a maximum of 54 working days — one of the best paternity leave allowances around the world.

But since the beginning of 2023, other countries seem to be catching up — and there are various reasons for it. Of course, paternity can be considered a feminist policy and an improvement for women’s conditions, as women too often are stuck with the majority of a family’s chores and mental workload.

But that is not the only reason why, around the world, some governments are now establishing or extending paternity leave.

Encouraging paternity leave for economic reasons

Governments in Singapore and Japan are starting to encourage paternity leave to increase falling birth rates in both countries.

Fathers who take a longer leave fear they will be seen as less hard-working.

Singapore’s government believes that one of the best ways to encourage people to start families is to ensure both parents will be present for their children. After Jan. 1, 2024, fathers can take up to four weeks of government-paid paternity leave. Lawrence Wong, the country's deputy prime minister, has said that the government wants to encourage “paternal involvement to be the norm in our society.”

Still, some Singaporean feminists, including Corinna Lim, wonder how many fathers will actually leave for four full weeks. She suggests fathers who take a longer leave may fear they will not be seen as less manly or less hard-working.

Image of A family passing by the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, taking photos and hoping to catch a glimpse of some athletes.

August 3, 2021, Tokyo, Japan: A family passing by the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, taking photos and hoping to catch a glimpse of some athletes.

Tanja Houwerzijl/SOPA Images via Zuma

A change to tackle declining births

In Japan, the situation is similar: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sees an extension of paternity leave as “the last chance to tackle declining births.”

New fathers in Japan can take four weeks of paternity leave at 80% of their salary, but just under 14% of those eligible took advantage of the policy in 2021. The government wants 85% of fathers to take paternity leave by 2030 — a huge increase from the current rates.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country desperately needs to be come a “child-first society.” Here, the extension of paternity leave is less about feminism and more about the economy.

Image of \u200bA parent and their child enjoying the view in a forest

A parent and their child enjoying the view in a forest located in Bonaventure, Canada.

Alex Guillaume

Masculinity and vision of the workplace 

In Finland, a new gender-neutral parental leave was launched in September. Here, the Finnish government's priorities contrast with the recent initiatives launched in Japan and Singapore. The new system in Finland would allow parents to take 160 days of paid leave each, and they would also be able to transfer some of those days between each other.

The new measure aims to make paternity leave a measure helping the Finnish society lean even more towards gender equality. Finland’s defense minister stepped aside for paternal leave in February — even though it’s still not a common practice.

The system remains relatively traditional.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the system remains relatively traditional. According to a new survey from VOL research, most Belgian men still hold solidly traditional views, and do not see themselves taking more than the 20 days of paternity leave they are legally allowed (the leave was recently extended). Instead, many men believe that a man’s place is at work, and fear taking more days could be bad for their careers, echoing the fears Lim has described in Singapore as well.

Around the world, pressure is building in many countries to improve access to paternity leave and improve parental leave policies. In Rwanda, activists are calling for paternity leave to be increased to six weeks, while in India, some companies seem to be warming up to the idea of improving parental leave policies. However paternity leave is perceived in societies, it's clear that people in many countries are increasingly pushing for it — and that change may be on the way.

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