Swedes take a new step in parental leave. Grandparents can now get paid to take care of grandkids

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Sweden launched a groundbreaking new law on Monday that allows grandparents to step in and get paid parental leave while taking care of their grandchildren for up to three months of a child’s first year.

The development comes after the Swedish parliament, the 349-seat Riksdag, approved last December the government’s proposal on transfer of parental allowance. This comes 50 years after the Scandinavian country became the first in the world to introduce paid parental leave for fathers and not just mothers.

Under the law, parents can transfer some of their generous parental leave allowance to the child’s grandparents. A parent couple can transfer a maximum of 45 days to others while a single parent can transfer 90 days, according to the Social Insurance Agency, a government agency that administers the social insurance system.

This Scandinavian country of 10 million, known for its taxpayer-funded social welfare system, has over generations built a society where citizens are taken care of from cradle to grave.

In Sweden, you are entitled to be fully off work when your child is born. Parental benefit is paid out for 480 days, or about 16 months, per child. Of those, the compensation for 390 days is calculated based on a person’s full income, while for the remaining 90 days, people get a fixed amount of 180 kronor ($17) per day.

There are also other benefits for parents in Sweden — they can also work reduced hours until the child is 8 years old, while government employees can get those reduced hours until the child turns 12.

By contrast, the United States is one of only a handful of countries — and the only industrialized one — that does not have a national paid maternity leave policy. The Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible American workers with up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave per year, but that time is unpaid.

“We have no federal, national-level entitlement to paid parental leave at all,” said Vicki Shabo, who researches and advocates for paid family and medical leave programs in the United States at Washington, D.C.-based think tank New America.

Paid family leave programs have been created in 13 states and Washington, D.C., although the parental leave offered in those places is generally about three months — just a fraction of Sweden’s benefits. As of March of last year, only about a quarter of civilian workers in the U.S. got paid family leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even in states that offer paid leave to bond with a new child, that time is not transferable to grandparents unless they are acting as the child’s parent, said Jared Make, vice president at nonprofit advocacy organization A Better Balance.

“Families often extend beyond the nuclear family,” Make said. “Examples like Sweden show just how far behind the United States is. We have a lot of work to do to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world.”

Alexandra Wallin of Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency told Swedish broadcaster SVT the new law will “give greater opportunities.”

Still, the rules for grandparents, she said, are the same as for ordinary parental allowance and require a person be insured for parental allowance, which most people in Sweden are.

There are conditions for parental allowance — a retiree can also take parental leave, for example, in which case the compensation is based on the person’s pension. A person may not look for work or study during the time they receive parental allowance.

In the central town of Avesta, about 140 kilometers (87 miles) northwest of Stockholm, Ritva Kärkkäinen told SVT she is considering taking time off work to care for her grandchildren.

In 1974, Sweden replaced gender-specific maternity leave with parental leave for both parents. At the time, the so-called parental insurance enabled parents to take six months off work per child — with each parent entitled to half of the days.

However, after that move, only 0.5% of the paid parental leave was taken by fathers, according to the Social Insurance Agency. Today, fathers in Sweden take around 30% of the paid parental leave, the agency said.


Associated Press writers David Keyton in Berlin and Claire Savage in Chicago contributed to this report.


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