Editorial: more kids, back to work quicker

PHOTO: Urmas Nemvalts

Praxis, a political think tank, has come out with a study on effects of parental leave on two issues important for the state: increasing birth rate and return of parents – mothers, mainly – back to work. Generally, the current system is quite good; even so, it needs tweaking. Mainly, regarding how mothers and fathers divide the parental leave.

The problem Praxis seeks to solve is this: in Estonia, as in the rest of Europe, two processes are on, at the same time. Both may start having an adverse effect on future of countries. Low fertility and aging of population have the states staring at a controversial task. On the one hand, families need to be motivated to have kids; on the other hand, the parents are needed to stay active on labour market. For these two aims to be compatible, families ought to have better flexibility to live working and family lives at the same time, without either one suffering.

The solution offered by Praxis is dividing parental duties between mother and father, in a manner more equal. According to the study, this should help meet both goals. It has been found that when fathers care more for the children, more of these are born – the mothers more confident in the shared responsibility. And, on the other hand, with fathers more inclined to stay home with children, part of the time, the mothers’ chances are increased to get back to work quicker.

The said solution would mean altering current parental pay system. As compared to other European countries, the current system does have several strong points – the long parental benefit period, and the generous benefits – but, at the same time, it is lacking the element that would encourage fathers to participate in caring for children. The chance for it is there, but a direct motivational system is lacking.

A glance on experience by other European countries tells us there are various ways to motivate fathers. Finland, Germany, Portugal, Austria, Italy and others award decisions by fathers to stay home with kids with extra vacations. Praxis suggests a solution somewhat different: parental leave would be split between both parents; and should one opt not to use it, it will be lost. This kind of a system is used in Iceland and Norway.

As in Estonia gender roles are quite rigid, the wage gap wide, and fathers rather timid to take the opportunity to stay home with kids, Praxis is inclined to favour the latter version. Meanwhile, the solution is seen as quite flexible. Parents might have the chance to be on parental leave part-time and thus for a longer period of time, dividing it between both parents – for instance, while one of the parents is with the kid in the morning, the other can take the evening «shift»; both would keep working part-time.

Naturally, a prerequisite for a change like that would be readiness by employers. However, advice by Praxis is not a path immediately to be taken. This is just a suggestion how to more effectively solve the problems faced by the state – without extra strain on the budget. A good basis for discussions, though.

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