In-depth: Paid father’s leave of 8 weeks in Spain. Towards gender equality in entitlement to well-paid leaves

Last March, the Spanish government issued a “revolutionary” legal decree with the objective to reach gender equality in entitlement to well-paid maternity and paternity leave by January 2021. Maternity leave in Spain has a length of 16 weeks and social security replaces 100% of the previous wage (with a ceiling of 4070 € per month). Paternity leave has a length of 8 weeks since last 1st of April and is also paid at 100%. By January 2020 its lengths will be increased to 12 weeks and by January 2021 to 16 weeks. If this decree is fully implemented, then Spain will be the first country in the world with a 100% paid individual and non-transferable leave of four months for both genders alike. Currently, Iceland and Sweden have three months of non-transferable leave for fathers paid at 80% and 77.6% of previous wage (with ceilings). Norway offers 3,4 months of leave for fathers paid at 100% (with ceilings). By 2021 Spain is thought to offer a more generous leave reserved for fathers in terms of duration and wage replacement than in Iceland, Sweden and Norway. In addition, the Spanish paternity leave will have the same duration as the leave for mothers, because well-paid leave for mothers in Spain is much shorter than in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. In Spain, no paid parental leave exists after maternity leave, because the existing leave (excedencia) is unpaid. In the three northern countries total well-paid parental leave available for mothers (individual and family entitlement) ranges from 6 months in Iceland, to 8,6 in Norway and 12,8 in Sweden, while in Spain it amounts to the 3,7 months (16 weeks) of maternity leave (International Review on Leave Policies and Related Research 2019, p. 57). So, gender equality in the entitlement and use of leave does not exist in these northern countries. This is the result of the conjunction of leave design and distinctive take-up patterns by gender. Most men only use well-paid and non-transferable leave, whereas most mothers make an accumulative use of the leave reserved for them and transferable leaves (family entitlement). How has Spain arrived at this design of individual, non-transferable and well-paid leave that will promote an equal use of 16 weeks of leave by mothers and fathers?

The first important reform to promote fathers’ use of paternity leave was implemented by a social-democratic government in March 2007 through the Spanish Law on Gender Equality. A non-transferable two-week paternity leave was introduced with a 100% wage replacement level. The law also foresaw its enlargement to four weeks in 2009, but different governments during the economic crisis and the phase of austerity policies postponed it for eight years. Finally, the Conservative government of the Popular Party (PP) with the support of the liberal party Ciudadanos decided to implement the four weeks of father’s leave in January 2017. Shortly after, with the approval of the new State budget, five weeks of leave were conceded from July 2018.  It must be underlined that since 2005 an alliance of feminist and social movements was demanding to include men into gender equality policies. Concerning parental leave the civic Platform for Equal and Non-transferable Birth and Adoption Leave (PPiiNA) has campaigned for the equalisation of paternity with maternity leave for 14 years. A law proposal of the PPiiNA for such a reform was for the first time registered in parliament in 2012, but during the economic recession it was not presented and discussed in any plenary session. Finally, in June 2018 the left-wing Unidos Podemos party presented a similar law proposal to the plenary of the parliament, and all parliamentarian groups voted for the consideration of this law proposal on equalling paternity to maternity leave. Yet, its approval was continuously postponed and never happened. In March 2019 the new social-democratic government of the PSOE party decided to force a similar reform through a Decree, which extended paternity leave to eight weeks as first step towards gender equality in entitlement to birth leave. The reform coincided with the largest feminist demonstrations at 8th March ever seen in Spain and two corresponding nation-wide feminist strikes in 2018 and 2019. Currently, the Spanish Feminism has become a mass movement supported by many people and public opinion makers.

The reform decided in March 2019 differs in some points from the previous law proposal, mainly in the design on when the father must use his leave and in the provisions about the employers’ possibility to influence the timing and form of use (full-time, part-time or weekly). The decree includes six weeks of obligatory leave for fathers (also mothers have the obligation to use six weeks of maternity leave), which they have to use jointly after the birth or adoption of the child, while the PPiiNA law proposal only foresaw the need to take two weeks after arrival of the child and left to the parents the decision on how to use the remaining 14 weeks. In addition, according to the decree fathers must bargain with the employer when and how to take the additional voluntary 10 weeks, while in the law proposal this is an individual right of the male employee not subject to negotiation.

What will this legal change mean for real gender equality in employment and at home? This depends on two issues of the new birth leave (permiso por nacimiento y cuidado de menor). First, on fathers’ effective use of the longer leave, and second, on fathers’ eligibility, ability and willingness to take turns with the mother to care for their babies. Due to lack of data, we cannot yet study the use of the eight weeks of leave, but we can see the increase of fathers’ take-up rates since the enlargement to four and five weeks. As shown in the figure below, during the crisis and the first three recovery years, the uptake rates of the two weeks of leave oscillated between 66 and 71% of employed fathers, and with the extension of the leave to four weeks in 2017 and to five weeks since mid-2018 we estimate 80% of take up rate (Jurado Guerrero and Muñoz Comet,  2019). This is a high use and compared to mother’s take up rate, no gender gap in use is found anymore in 2018. So, the use of an average of 30 days of the Spanish well-paid and non-transferable leave in 2018 represents a success story.


Source: own elaboration with data from the Labour Force Survey and the official social security statistics.
*Take-up rates refer to fathers aged 20 to 49 who are employed. The first vertical line refers to the introduction of two weeks in 2007, the second to four weeks in 2017 and the third to five weeks (July 5th, 2018)


Second, concerning how fathers will distribute their weeks of leave, the current reform compels fathers to use the leave simultaneously with the mother during two weeks in 2019, four weeks in 2020 and six weeks in 2021. This obligation to use an important amount of the individual leaves simultaneously has several consequences. First, the total amount of time, which parents can take care of the baby at home is reduced, because the father cannot take most of his leave after the mother has returned to her job. Second, this may create a practice of fathers helping to care for many weeks instead of staying alone with the child most time.  Recent research has shown that staying alone with the child makes a difference for fathers, because being the main carer leads to doing more organizational work and to increase responsibility for the child. Like women, men learn to care by doing and by spending time with the child. Staying alone promotes learning to care in a more autonomous way and it is an element on the way of transforming hegemonic into caring masculinity (Romero-Balsas et al. 2019). In sum, if parents (could) take turns in caring for their baby when the Spanish leave reform will be implemented, the gender transforming potential of the new 16-weeks leave for fathers promises to be high. Also, babies will benefit from creating a stronger emotional bond with the father and from being cared at home longer by the parents before entering daycare o pre-primary school.

Teresa Jurado-Guerrero, Madrid, October, 2019.

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