Fathers taking parental leave: impact on work–life balance

Only 1.4% of parental leave is taken by men in the Czech Republic, according to qualitative and quantitative research that investigated the family situation where the father takes responsibility for all-day childcare. Results from the qualitative part of the survey reveal the most common strategies that partners use to share the period of parental leave (three to four years), and the main reasons for the gender breakdown of parental leave.

Parental leave provisions

Employees in the Czech Republic are entitled to up to three years of parental leave which must be taken before the child’s third birthday. Parents may share the leave equally, or either the father or mother can take the entire period of leave (36 months). Another option is to take a few months of leave at a time, interchangeably. Both parents can also take leave at the same time, provided only one of them is taking parental benefit or maternity allowance at that time. In certain cases, an employer may extend the leave to the child’s fourth birthday, up to which time the parent can claim parental benefit; this does not occur very often, however.

For women, parental leave follows on from maternity leave, which the mother takes around the time of childbirth for a period of 28 weeks; men may take parental leave immediately after the birth of the child. There is no paternity leave in the Czech Republic. However, in terms of legislation, men have had equal right of access to parental leave since 2001. Despite this fact, fathers only make very limited use of this opportunity, although the number is growing.

The most accurate data about fathers taking parental leave comes from a state social support database of persons collecting parental benefit. This benefit amounts to a flat rate of €130 per month (the average monthly gross wage was about €670 in 2005) and is intended for parents on parental leave. Whereas, in 2001, the proportion of men availing of parental benefit represented just 0.8% of the total, the figure increased to 1.4% in 2004. In absolute terms, therefore, the numbers have nearly doubled since 2001.

Numbers of men and women collecting parental benefit, 2001–2005
Numbers of men and women collecting parental benefit, 2001–2005
Year Women(absolute numbers) Men(absolute numbers) Men(percentage)
2001 263,865 2,131 0.80%
2002 261,940 2,297 0.87%
2003 259,079 2,425 0.93%
2004 274,115 3,234 1.17%
2005 287,710 4,050 1.39%

Source: Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the Czech Republic (Ministerstvo práce a sociálních věcí ČR, MPSV ČR) – State social support database

Survey results

A survey of parents of children aged under 10 years, carried out as part of a study on Reconciling family life and employment 2005 (in Czech, 1Mb PDF) by the Research Institute of Labour and Social Affairs (Výzkumný ústav práce a sociálních věcí, VÚPSV), sought to identify the reasons for the low take-up of parental leave by fathers. More than 70% of respondents mentioned two principal reasons. The first was the financial disadvantages that may occur when fathers take parental leave as the family probably loses a higher wage because wage levels for women are typically lower in the Czech Republic (CZ0505102F). The second was the stereotypical view that parental leave is more advantageous for women.

This preconceived view that it is more suitable for women to take parental leave is highly significant in the Czech Republic and should not be underestimated. Because of this stereotype, even families where the partners’ wages are equal – or where the mother earns more – maintain that the mother should take care of small children. Most parents viewed as non-standard the case of fathers taking parental leave as it contradicts their idea of what is appropriate. In the survey, 67% of men and 61% of women did not agree with the statement: ‘It is alright if the man looks after the children at home and the woman goes to work’. In general, men regard their role as main breadwinner in the family as being most important, and consider that looking after children is a woman’s duty.

Qualitative findings

In order to ascertain more details about families with fathers on parental leave, a qualitative survey was conducted in 20 families where the father currently or previously spent all day looking after a child under the age of four years while the mother worked. The average duration of the father’s parental leave in these families was 21 months. The age of the children at the time the father took charge of caring for them usually ranged from four months to one year.

A father’s decision to take parental leave was usually based on the employment situation of both parents, as well as their financial situation. In roughly one quarter of cases, the father was also strongly motivated to care for the child. There was never just one simple reason: the parents always reached agreement after weighing up a number of factors that influenced their decision. The most common principal reasons cited by parents were the family’s financial situation combined with work opportunities. In these families, it was often financially more advantageous for the man to stay at home, because the woman had a significantly higher wage. Another reason was that the man either could not find a job or the one he occupied did not suit him, while the woman had work or wanted to go back to work because it was advantageous for her (for example, that she did not lose her job or position after maternity leave). Some of the couples based their decision partly on the belief that the father had the chance of earning extra money while on parental leave, whereas the woman had no such chance because she would not find suitable work while looking after a child full time.

Impact on work–life balance

Overall, the strategy that parents had adopted had a positive impact on their work–life balance. It may be concluded that the man loses nothing by taking parental leave and the woman gains. If only mothers take parental leave, this puts them at a disadvantage in the labour market owing to their protracted absences while on parental leave (CZ0504101N). As it is not assumed in Czech society that fatherhood restricts men’s working activity, parental leave for a father does not necessarily impact negatively on his career. Apart from one exception, the surveyed men who had already completed their parental leave had no problems returning to work.

It is possible, however, that only those men choose to take parental leave who are sure that their position in the labour market would not be adversely affected. Moreover, almost half of the surveyed fathers also continued some gainful activity during parental leave, which is a higher proportion than that of women working during parental leave. Usually, it is in the form of freelance, part-time or short-term work. This does not jeopardise their flat rate parental benefit, which is not means tested.

Parental benefit is designed to assist a parent who cares for a small child. The condition of parental care is considered fulfilled if a child under three years of age attends a crèche or any other institution for less than five calendar days a month, and if a child over three years of age (and less than four years) regularly attends a pre-school institution for less than four hours a day. Most crèches and kindergarten are public and financed by the state. The number of children attending crèches is very low; the majority of Czech children start attending kindergarten at the age of three years.

In the context of society as a whole, parental leave by fathers has three basic advantages. First, it has a positive effect on strengthening the family and its social function. Second, it shortens the amount of time during which mothers leave the labour market, which improves their employment prospects. Third, it helps to break down traditional gender stereotypes, which yields positive results in the process of achieving gender equality.

References and further information

Nešporová, O., Reconciling family and work. Families with fathers taking parental leave [in Czech], Prague, RILSA, 2005.

Kuchařová, V. (et al), Reconciling family and work. Current options and the opinions of young parents [in Czech], Prague, RILSA, 2006.

See also the topic report Combining family and full-time work (TN0510TR02).

Olga Nesporova, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Pievienot komentāru