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Iceland’s parental leave policy leads to baby boom

Iceland's parental leave policy leads to baby boomDespite the financial turmoil in the country, Iceland is still top in Europe about one thing – birth rates. At 2.14 children per woman, that makes the Icelanders the most prolific Europeans, and comparable to the US’ current baby boom. Now I was very proud that my having twins made me prolific by German standards (1.37 per woman in 2007) but the Icelandic women put my performance to shame.

A tongue-in-cheek article in a tabloid magazine attributed the high birth rates to the long Nordic nights and the want of something to do in the face of unemployment. This is a bit unfair really because birth rates are calculated as a yearly average and although nights in Iceland might be extra long in winter, they are extra short in summer. In addition, until the middle of last year, Iceland was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, with the lowest unemployment rates. In other words, the birth rate statistics we are looking at now are from the pre-recession era.

According to Expatica, the reason behind the high Icelandic birth rates is the country’s parental leave policies.

You see, in Iceland there is not only maternity leave, but also paternity leave. After a baby is born, parents are entitled to a total of 9 months of parental leave, 3 months for the mom, 3 months for the dad (not necessarily in that order), and 3 months to be split between the two. During their time off, they receive 80% of their salaries.

Americans would say “wow, how generous” whereas other Europeans would say “what’s the big deal? Maternity packages in other Scandinavian countries are more generous.”

The key to Iceland’s success is the fact that paternity leave is compulsory! Daddy has to pull his weight and have his turn in nappy changing. In some countries, paternity leave is an option provided for by the law, but let’s face it, how many Daddies are really opting to stay at home?

The result of this fair division of labor between Mom and Dad is that employers are not prejudiced against hiring women. Mommy doesn’t get cheated out of a career. Daddy gets a chance to bond with baby. The country gets a baby boom. Everybody’s happy.

In the same note, German demographers are happy to report that German birth rates are up from 1.33 in 2004 to 1.37 in 2007. They attributed this trend to improved parental leave policies, largely due to the noble efforts of the German family minister Ursula von der Leyen, well-known for her beauty and elegance and her seven – yes seven – offspring.

The new German law provides that parents, mom or dad, get 65% of their salary for up to 12 months of parental leave. Unlike Iceland however, paternity leave is not obligatory. Still it seems that the new laws are good enough to encourage people to have more babies.

Of course, the current recession might be changing the birth rate trends, just like it’s changing things everywhere else. Let’s see what next year’s statistics will say.


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