Parental leave is one of the main policies to support working fathers and their ability to reconcile work and family. In Norway, as in many other European countries, parental leave consists of several parts, both individual and family-based rights (see Blum et al, 2017). As noted, shared parental leave is a family right available to both mothers and fathers, being gender-neutral in character. The father- and mother-specific quotas are earmarked, non-transferable rights and are thus inherently gendered. We investigated whether fathers’ use of and understanding of these two types of leave differ.
In their analysis of what is needed to achieve ‘strong gender equality’ in family and working life, Brighthouse and Wright (2008) distinguish between policies that promote equality and those that enable it. As they see it, shared parental leave granted to the family enables parents to adopt egalitarian strategies, but puts no pressure on fathers to use them. Leave policies that promote equality are exemplified by paid leave granted to individual parents, which lapses if it is not used. Brighthouse and Wright find that type of leave necessary for breaking down the cultural barriers to gender equality in family and working life. Likewise, Morgan (2008) contends that shared leave is a ‘partial reform’ in the development towards gender equality. Partial reforms may be helpful to parents’ work–life balance and bring some progress towards equality, but they may also reinforce a traditional division of labour between mothers and fathers. If the objective is greater equity in terms of the dual earner/ dual caregiver model, the father's quota represents a full embrace of this model (Morgan, 2008).
The international literature on specific policy provisions for parental leave is expanding (McKay and Doucet, 2010), particularly concerning fathers. Within research based on Nordic experiences, there is a consensus that parental leave rights given to individuals, rather than to families, are most likely to get fathers to take leave (Duvander and Lammi-Taskula, 2011; Haas and Rostgaard, 2011; Eydal et al, 2015). The father's quota in Nordic countries has been successful in involving fathers in taking care of their young children (Haas and Rostgaard, 2011; Brandth and Kvande, 2013a). These results are also found internationally (Gornick and Myers, 2009b; Moss and Kamerman, 2009; Miller, 2013). Fathers taking leave challenges the traditional gender norm that mothers are the primary caregivers of small children.