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Doubling paternity leave meant 20,000 more dads took time off in 2017
A YEAR after paternity leave doubled in length from a fortnight to a month, an additional 20,164 men have applied for it, according to Spain's Social Security office.
A total of 244,468 dads sought paid paternity leave in 2016, when they were allowed two weeks, and from January 1, 2017 this was increased to four weeks.
In 2017, the number of fathers who applied totalled 264,632, or an increase of 8.2%.
Numbers of women seeking maternity leave were almost the same as dads who did so – a total of 268,328 mums applied to take paid time off to care for newborn babies.
These figures do not include adoption or fostering leave, which is also available to new parents.
Throughout the whole of last year, the Social Security office paid out around just under €1.92 billion in parental leave, not including for adoptions, of which €1.52bn was in maternity and just below €400 million was in paternity leave.
Less money was paid out for maternity leave – a fall of 2.6% on figures for 2016 – but funds set aside for paternity leave claims increased by nearly 94%, not quite in line with the 100% increase in time off.
The fact it falls short of 100% has shown that not all dads have taken the four weeks off that they are entitled to – possibly because, in most cases, they believed they would earn far less on paternity leave than they would by working, and may not be able to afford to do so.
But in the case of those employed by companies, paternity leave pays 100% of their salary for the full four weeks.
In practice, paternity leave being increased from two to four weeks was agreed in 2009, but took nearly eight years to become effective at law because the State did not have enough money to guarantee this extra time off to all dads who might apply.
Paternity pay is on top of any money the mother may earn from maternity leave, but the full four weeks have to be taken at once and cannot be staggered.
This said, it does not have to be taken as soon as the baby is born – women get four months, or 16 weeks off after having a baby, which starts on the day of birth, and fathers can take their own four weeks off either during this time or as soon as it ends, but no later.
As a result, babies can have an extra month of full-time care with a parent at home 24 hours a day even after the mother has to go back to work.
In practice, many mums add on their 'breast-feeding leave' and annual holiday in one lump to the end of their maternity leave, or as late after it as the law allows, to give them longer at home with their newborn, given that many nursery schools will not take children until they are at least six months old – albeit some will take them almost from birth.
For parents who work, only 4,000 more maternity leave applications have been approved than paternity leave requests in the last year, whilst in 2016, the difference was 55,000 in favour of the mothers.
Spain's government had planned to extend paternity leave to five weeks, but this decision has been put off until the State budget has been approved in case the funds are not available.
A joint study by Barcelona University and the city's Pompeu Fabra University says making paternity and maternity leave the same length – 16 weeks each – would help with the division of home and family labour and childcare, although in practice, this would not help single mothers or children born to two mums.
But it would help single dads or all-male couples, since at present, the former will only get four weeks with his new baby or the couple would only get eight weeks in total.
Additionally, the research warns that in countries such as Spain with an alarmingly-low birth rate, other policies need to be introduced urgently, such as subsidised full-time or part-time childcare for parents who look after their infants at home rather than returning to full-time work and placing them in nurseries, often at prohibitive cost.
Professor Libertad González, one of the members of the research team, says a complete study would need to involve finding out whether all dads who took advantage of paternity leave in 2017 opted to take the full four weeks off, since the Social Security office has not revealed this to them.
Sra González says dads taking paternity leave, however, nearly always tend to be men working either for the public sector or employed by firms on permanent contracts, since it is not always easy or even possible for fathers on temporary or part-time contracts, or who are self-employed, to take paid time off to help with childcare.
“What I'd like to know is whether increasing time off to four weeks has achieved its aim of reducing the stigma surrounding dads who take paternity leave and whether this has had a long-lasting effect on the family dynamics,” Sra González comments.
As for career breaks for looking after children or other family members, the ministry of employment says in 2017, a tota
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