Three important welfare reforms to promote gender equality in Sweden

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Some of the most important reforms for promoting gender equality in Sweden were imposed in the 1970s, such as the individual income taxation, the development and expansion of public childcare and the gender-neutral parental leave benefit.

These reforms promoted gender equality and increased women’s prospects to have the same opportunities as men to enter the labour market, and to remain and develop there. Parts of the unpaid household and care work, mostly performed by women, became the responsibility of the public welfare system. Consequently women could gain access to employment and greater financial independence, which increased their well-being and bargaining power in the household. In addition, men were encouraged by law to take responsibility for their parental duties and household work to a greater extent. These different reforms also contributed to the development of a modern welfare state in Sweden which has proven to be essential for gender equality, as a well-functioning welfare sector enables both women and men to participate in the labour market on equal terms.

Separate income taxation for wife and husband (1971)

Separate income taxation was imposed in 1971. This created an incentive for women to take part in the labour market, as their income was no longer considered part of the husband’s income which had meant being subject to a high tax discouraging them from working outside the home. Individual taxation made it beneficial for both parties to work. In combination with the expansion of child care services and a steady increase of the reserved parental leave months for each parent, it had an important positive impact on women’s employment rate.

Development of public child care (1974)

The broad expansion of the day-care and pre-school system began in the 1970s. Previously, women had the main responsibility for the care of children and if they worked they had to make child-care arrangements with the help of nannies, friends and relatives. Women often faced impossible daily schedules balancing paid work and full responsibility for the domestic and care work. The development of affordable public child care facilities available to all has been prerequisite for the large proportion of women in gainful employment in Sweden. Together with public elderly care, this gives both women and men an opportunity to combine professional life and family life.

First country to introduce gender-neutral paid parental leave benefit (1974)

In 1974, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce a gender-neutral paid parental leave benefit. Since then, the parental leave reform has been revised several times. The policy is aimed at supporting a  dual-earner family model, which is a cornerstone for the development of gender equality, women’s empowerment and an important part of gender equality policy. In 1995, the first reserved month for each parent was introduced. The reserved month was a non-transferable paid parental leave. The policy was later expanded with an second month in 2002 and a third month in 2016. Today, women and men are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave (16 months) per child. Ninety days are reserved for each parent and cannot be transferred to the other parent. The intention behind the increased number of reserved months for each parent has been to achieve a more even distribution of unpaid household and care work, and gender equality in the labour market.