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Paternity leave and fatherhood

Shani Bishop investigates paternity leave worldwide.

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Shani Bishop

Long gone are the days when women had a baby, and the man took the afternoon off and then went back to work. The option of men taking paternity leave has changed enormously in my lifetime and since I had children.


As of 2nd August 2022 in Denmark, each parent is entitled to 24 weeks. The model is known as the 24-24 model so that dad can take:

  • Two weeks at the time of the birth

  • Nine weeks before the child turns one (non-transferrable) and

  • Thirteen weeks before the child turns one (transferrable).

How much dads are paid depends on the company. Men can claim paternity benefits based on their hourly rate for up to 24 weeks if the company money stops.

It was common to see young dads with their little ones in coffee shops together in groups. I thought that was amazing because it didn’t exist in the UK at that time. This time gives Dad insight into how hard being a parent is.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the rules are clear for dads, but companies have a lot of scope for generosity. Dads are entitled to 2 weeks of paternity pay at the beginning, paternity pay during the first year and shared leave. Shared leave in the UK means 50 weeks and up to 37 weeks of pay between parents. So far, not that different. The difference comes in the amount dads receive. Some packages are very generous, and others not so much.

When I had my first child 13 years ago, my husband got two weeks off at full pay, but he was the only one of six fathers in our baby group who did. The other men got the leave but sadly no pay or had to take annual leave. Thirteen years later and things have changed a lot. My brother-in-law is taking a year off work, which I find unbelievable. As a government employee, he is entitled to the same leave and pay as a mother. He will be paid six months like I was on maternity leave. My physio told me recently that his male friend at one company would take a year off and be fully paid for a year. These are the most generous ones I have heard of.

"It was common to see young dads with their little ones in coffee shops together in groups."

So which countries are getting this right?

Norway, Sweden and Iceland top the table in family-friendly policies, but the countries that top the list for paternity leave will surprise you. According to the OCED, it’s Japan, South Korea, and Portugal. Japan offers an astonishing 30 weeks of paid leave at a full-time rate. I lived in Japan when I was younger, so if I’m honest, I do find this surprising. The OECD also confirms very few fathers in Japan take this leave sadly. The recent change in Denmark would move it right up the league table now.

Which countries have work to do to support families?

You won’t be surprised to find Canada or the USA at the bottom of this league. Still, you might be surprised to find Cyprus, New Zealand, Switzerland, and many other European countries. Let’s hope these countries see the benefits of improving leave for men soon.

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