“We hope it can go faster,” said Åsa Forsell from TCO.
Sweden's generous parental benefits, including 480 days of paid leave for new parents and as paid leave when a child aged below 12 is sick (known as VAB), have helped boost its reputation as one of the world's most gender equal countries.
Both parental leave and VAB can be split between parents, but in practice it's still women who take the lion's share of this time off work – something which can be detrimental to their careers and financial situation. People taking parental leave or VAB are typically paid 80 percent of their usual salary for those days.
Last year, 70 percent of parental allowance and VAB days were taken by women.
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“The fact that it looks like this disadvantages women's finances and is an obstacle to an equal labour market,” said Forsell. “Women who have children are away from work for longer periods than men who have children; they are more likely to work part-time, have worse salary development, are signed off sick more often and in the long term that also leads to worse pensions.”
There were differences between Sweden's regions, with Västerbotten in the north the most gender equal in how this time was split, and Skåne in the south the least equal.
“It's looked like this for a while now,” explained Forsell, referring to the regional variation. “It depends on several factors, such as how the population is grouped in terms of education level and so on.”
Over the past five years, the gender gap in how these benefits are taken has grown smaller, but if it continues to change at the current pace, it will be another 20 years before complete equality is reached.
The organization's spokesperson Eva Nordmark said in a written comment about the index: “We're taking small steps towards equality every year, but we aren't there yet. The recent development in Swedish politics, with a cross-bloc government agreement, makes me optimistic. I hope that politicians seize the opportunity and push through reforms that increase equality in parental allowance, and help parents to reach a work-life balance.”