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To Become or Not to Become (JB)

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Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Choosing whether or not to become parents is a decision most, if not all, couples consider..

It’s a big decision to make, one that will change the course of life. What follows is a lifetime of responsibilities for another human being, responsibilities that include nurturing, disciplining, teaching and most of all, love with eternal abundance.

This decision is tied to more than just yearning for a child together. For some, a child comes spontaneously into their lives without having planned it. But for others, this decision is made after careful contemplation and planning.

One of the considerations is financial. Can we have a child and continue to live comfortably? What is the temporary loss of income and what is the cost of living with a child under the roof?

In Icelandic culture, it is common to say that things will somehow work out, or þetta reddast. However, for some of us, there is the need for more security.

As one half of a currently childfree couple that for almost a decade have enjoyed each other’s company—and as of 2012, the company of a yellow Labrador Retriever named Emma—the topic has certainly come up and been discussed.

One of the primary concerns for me is to time it correctly, or at a time when financial security allows us to live comfortably rather than spend the first year with the baby worrying about money.

In a recent news segment on Kastljós, a televised news program that airs on the Icelandic Broadcasting Company RÚV, couples who’ve had children recently and in the early 2000s were interviewed and asked about their experiences of parental leave, and in particular paternity leave.

Iceland was apparently the first country to establish a non-transferable paternity leave system for a period of three months. The non-transferable part grants the father the right to take three months off to be with his newborn, and it cannot be transferred to the mother. The mother too has a non-transferable three months of leave to be with her newborn.

In addition, parents have three months to split between themselves. That’s a total of nine months, three months less than the parental leave granted to new parents in the other Nordic countries.

Despite the fact that parental leave is shorter than in the other Nordic countries, Icelandic fathers are granted the longest non-transferrable paternity leave for most, if not all, countries.

In Iceland, parents receive a maximum total of ISK 370,000 before tax, which comes to roughly USD 2,700 or EUR 2,480. After tax, a rough estimate of the amount is roughly ISK 270,000 (USD 2,040 or EUR 1,820).

In a country where men are still predominantly earning more than their female counterparts, at least when the average income of women is calculated, the loss of income is greater for the couple when the father takes paternity leave.

Therefore, since it is more common that fathers earn more than the mothers—as ridiculous as that is in this day and age—fewer fathers are taking advantage of their rights.

This fact is troublesome to me, as fathers are losing out on the opportunity to get to know their child and spend that precious one-on-one time with their child.

In the beginning, when paid paternity leave was introduced in Iceland (in the year 2000), the amount paid out to the parent on leave was 80 percent of that parent’s salary before tax. This made it easier for parents to maintain a comfortable life with fewer worries burdening them at this special time. This also made payments differ from one parent to the next.

This was not the best solution, and for this reason a fixed amount was established. However, in a country where living expanses are high, the current amount does not suffice for comfortable living.

Therefore, the yearning to have a child with the person you love is not enough. There is also the question of whether the partner earning more (especially if it’s the male) dares to take leave seeing how great the loss of income may be.

This means parents now contemplate whether they can afford to have a child and both take leave, that is, if they haven’t carefully saved up enough money to at the very least enjoy this time without worrying about whether ends will meet at the end of the month.

Iceland prides itself on being a family-friendly society, and in many ways it is. But with the wage gap between the sexes still in place, the attempt to achieve equal rights for the sexes is partly failing, and the reduction in the number of fathers taking paternity leave demonstrates just that in my opinion.

Where is the welfare in that, I wonder...

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir(at)gmail.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.