Less parental leave for same-sex male parents excludes them from benefits that support child development.

A study of parental leave entitlements has found that in the great majority of OECD countries, same-sex male parents are entitled to substantially less paid leave than different-sex parents and same-sex female parents. The study looked at the 33 OECD countries that offer paid parental leave. (The remaining OECD country, the United States, does not.)

The authors of the research suggest that the reasons behind their finding include a greater attribution of the caring role to women, and they recommend removing gendered and heteronormative language from parental leave regulations.

Only in four out of the 33 countries do all couples get the same paid parental leave: Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia. At the other extreme, in three countries—Israel, Switzerland and Turkey—same-sex male parents get nothing at all. In these three countries, same-sex female parents and different-sex parents get 14-17 weeks of paid parental leave. In 16 countries (Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK), same-sex female parents get the same amount of leave as different-sex parents, but same-sex male parents don’t. On average, same-sex male parents get 22 fewer weeks of paid parental leave than different-six parents, ranging from two weeks less in the UK to over a year less in Hungary, Japan and South Korea.

Discrepancies in paid parental leave exist also between same-sex female parents and different-sex parents, but to a lesser extent. Same-sex female parents get the same paid parental leave as different-sex parents in 19 countries, though in two of these (Slovakia and Austria) that can only happen if one mother takes 100% of the parental leave and the other none, because no sharing with a second mother is allowed. In one country, Switzerland, the difference is absent because no partner of any gender gets any parental leave. In 14 countries, leave designed specifically for fathers is not available to same-sex female parents.

There are also differences in parental leave entitlements for adoptive parents of different gender orientations. Nine countries do not allow same-sex parent adoption at all (Chile, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Slovakia, South Korea, Switzerland and Turkey), and two countries do not provide leave for adoption (Greece and Switzerland). Most of the rest, 20 in total, provide the same parental leave benefit for all adoptive couples, irrespective of gender combination. In two countries (Mexico and Portugal), different-sex adoptive parents get more parental leave than same-sex female parents, who, in turn, get considerably more than same-sex male parents.

The authors highlight three factors that drive these discriminatory parental leave entitlements.

The first is the greater attribution of caring to women then to men, which disadvantages same-sex male parents. Whilst some difference in parental leave entitlements between mothers and fathers is biologically based – the need for recovery from the birth and for the establishment of breastfeeding – the disparities are often more substantial than biology alone would justify. And any parental leave reserved for biological mothers means that same-sex male parents get less time to care for their babies. This can be substantially less: in seven countries, this difference in availability of parental leave is six months long or greater (Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea).

The second factor works the other way: parental leave entitlements specifically designed to facilitate fathers taking leave in different-sex relationships are not always equally accessible for same-sex female couples

A third factor in discrimination is the wider inequality in marriage and adoption rights for same-sex parents.

The study authors recommend removing from parental leave legislation gendered and heteronormative language that designates women as primary caregivers and assumes that every family has one mother and one father.

The researchers refer to the Yogyakarta Principles, which outline human rights for LBGT people. Principle 24 relates to family benefits and states that “no family may be subjected to discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity of any of its members, including with regard to family-related social welfare and other public benefits.”

Since shared parental leave-taking has been found to be linked to a higher rate of breastfeeding, improved child development, improved parent mental health and better protection from wage or job loss, the inequalities in the legislation expose same-sex parents more to risks than different-sex parents face.

Header photo: Brian Copeland. Creative Commons. 

References

 Wong E, Jou J, Raub A & Heymann J (2019), Comparing the availability of paid parental leave for same-sex and different-sex couples in 34 OECD countries, Journal of Social Policy