Ludde Omholt with his son, Love, in Södermalm, a bohemian and culturally rich parental role in Stockholm. From Swedish capital to the villages south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers now take parental leave. SPOLAND, SWEDEN — Mikael Karlsson owns a snowmobile, two hunting dogs and five guns.
In his spare time, this soldier-turned-game warden shoots moose and trades potty-training tips with other fathers. From trendy central Stockholm to this village in the rugged forest south of the Arctic Circle, 85 percent of Swedish fathers take parental leave. Those who don’t face questions from family, friends and colleagues. As other countries still tinker with maternity leave and women’s rights, Sweden may be a glimpse of the future.
In this land of Viking lore, men are at the heart of the gender-equality debate. The ponytailed center-right finance minister calls himself a feminist, ads for cleaning products rarely feature women as homemakers, and preschools vet books for gender stereotypes in animal characters. Swedish mothers still take more time off with children — almost four times as much. And some who thought they wanted their men to help raise baby now find themselves coveting more time at home. But laws reserving at least two months of the generously paid, 13-month parental leave exclusively for fathers — a quota that could well double after the September election — have set off profound social change. Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women’s paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers’ roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.