Parental leave and its outcomes - a comparison between Sweden and Germany

by Jennifer Geiser on January 6, 2015 - 11:58am

Different types of welfare states tend to choose different institutional ways to organize systems taking care of childcare, healthcare and education. The way these institutions are formed can be analyzed from a gender perspective and tell us something about how different policies generate different consequences for men and women. In this text we are about to make a comparison between Sweden and Germany in order to discuss the question: How do different institutional solutions influence the way parents organize their parental leave?

We will use Orloff’s divison of welfare states, which is referring to the works of Esping-Andersen (1990) and Korpi (1987), in order to put our comparison in a theoretical framework. In her article “Gender and the social rights of citizenship” (1993), Orloff firstly makes a distiction between “reacting” and “pro-active” welfare states. While both - Germany and Sweden - are considered as pro-active welfare states, having a broad range of different welfare institutions such as pensions and support for unemployed, they still differ a lot within this category. Orloff talks about different types of welfare state regimes: She puts Sweden in the category of “social-democratic regimes” and Germany in the category of “conservative-corporatist regimes”.

Basically, the difference between these two types is that “social-democratic regimes are universalistic and egalitarian, while the conservative-corporatist regimes preserve status and class differentials.” (Orloff, 1993). While social-democratic regimes try to promote solidarity by redistributing income in order to reduce class differences, conservative-corporatist regimes intensify the class differences by distinguishing between different social strata when it comes to state provision. In Orloff’s opinion, social-democratic regimes grant, for example, generous provision and universal benefits. Conservative systems, on the other hand, typically rely on benefits which are linked to contributions (see p. 311).


Two examples of institutional solutions


The Swedish system will serve as an example of the social-democratic welfare regime. The right to parental benefits is a part of the social insurance policy and they basically consist of money received by the parents from the state. In order to be insured in Sweden you need to live or work there. In addition, you need to be the child's parent or have custody of the child and you are not allowed to work, seek work or study in order to get parental benefits (Försäkringskassan, 2014).

Parental benefits are paid for 480 days (approximately 16 months) for one child. According to “The Global Gender Gap Report 2013”, Swedish parents, both mothers and fathers, are given the exact same amount of money during parental leave, namely 80% of their normal income. Both parents must take at least 30 days off when the child is born. There’s also an “equality bonus”, which basically means that every family gets more money if they share their parental leave equally (Försäkringskassan,  2014). It begins when the parent with the fewer amount of days with the child has had 60 of them. After that, both parents get 50 SEK (approximately 6 euros) extra every day.

Even though the Swedish welfare state and its institutions try to establish equal conditions, statistics show that women in average use 75% of the 480 days and that men only use 25% (Statistics Sweden, 2013). Although statistics show that its getting more equal, it will take parents until year 2094 to share the parental leave equally if it develops at the current speed (Pappaindex, 2013).


According to Orloff’s typology, Germany is seen as a conservative-corporatist regime. How is the parental leave organized in Germany? As parents, you can get “Elterngeld”, a parental benefit right after the birth of a child. During this time, the parents do not work and thus get support by the welfare state. The basic amount of the Elterngeld is payed for a maximum of 14 months with the condition that the father has to take at least two months of break. If this is not the case, the parents get Elterngeld for only twelve months (BMFSFJ). According to “The Global Gender Gap Report 2013”, women in Germany get 100% of their wages during the period of maternity leave, whereas men only get 67% of their wages during this time.

Does the German institution of parental leave benefits contribute to gender equality? According to the German Federal Office of Statistics, 834,359 parents received Elterngeld in 2012 - 640,084 women and 194,275 men. This data shows evidently that far more women receive the support than men do. Additionally, around 88% of the women make use of the parental benefits for twelve months whereas 78% of men use it for only two months. Obviously, Elterngeld does not contribute to gender equality. Families mostly split their benefits in a way which is most profitable to them.


Comparison between the Swedish and German model

As we can see, women tend to take more parental leave than men in both countries. Even though Orloff points out that social-democratic and conservative-corporatist regimes both organize themselves differently and thus produce different outcomes, our comparison shows that in the case of parental leave, we cannot find empirical evidence for this assumption. Why could it be that way?

In comparison, the micro level (in this case the family) seems to be more influential than the macro level (namely the state legislation). States have tried to develop institutional pre-conditions for equality in the field of parental leave, but somehow people do not respond to it. When we look at the way parental leave is shared, traditional values and gender roles tend to decide who stays at home and who works.

In Sweden, there has been a debate whether the government should legislate a fifty-fifty share between parents or not. Some political parties on the left wing certainly think so, while others think that its up to the families to decide themselves. A compulsory fifty-fifty share could be a way in which equality can be achieved but as long as the family institution is more influential, there might be no legislative way to solve this problem.


By Sebastian Röhlcke and Jennifer Geiser



Esping-Andersen, Gösta and Korpi, Walter. 1987. “From Poor Relief to Institutional Welfare States: The Development of Scandinavian Social Policy.” Pp. 39-74 in The Scandinavian Model: Welfare States and Welfare Research, edited by R. Erikson, E. Hanse,  S. Ringen, and H. Uusitalo. New York: M. E. Sharpe.

Esping-Anderson, Gösta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton university Press.

Orloff, Ann Shola. 1993. “Gender and the Social Rights of Citizenship: The Comparative Analysis of Gender Relations.” American Sociological Review, Vol. 58, No. 3, pp. 303-328.




Hi! I found your article very pleasant to read and also very interesting. I remember we had a debate in class about maternity leave and I was surprised to discover the diversity of this policy in every country of Europe. As you said, “the States have tried to develop institutional pre-conditions for equality in the field of parental leave” which mean there is a gender inequality kept over the years by the social reproduction (Pierre Bourdieu, and also Karl Marx earlier had studied it). Women taking care of children is a norm of our society even it changes slowly. In France, the system had been evolving since January and tend to be more equality between the two parents. So maybe one day Europe will make a european law about it.

About the author

Hello everyone,

my name is Jennifer and I'm 23 years old. I'm studying Sociology and Business Administration at the University of Potsdam.