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Does Earmarked Paternity Leave Shape Gender Norms?

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We ask whether earmarked parental leave can affect norms in society. Traditionally, economists have analyzed public policies almost exclusively through their effect on (economic) incentives, but in the context of child rearing, incentives appear to explain only a minor part of parents' behavior. Indeed, earmarked leave is explicitly motivated as a tool to change and overcome traditional gender norms in society. Hence, we ask to what extent earmarked leave affects parental norms, preferences and attitudes towards gender equality? Whether earmarked leave alleviates non-standard constrains such as concerns about breaking social norms and perceived career costs of leave? And whether earmarked leave imposes costs on parents due to, e.g., less flexibility in the parental leave system?


Our project will both push the research frontier on our understanding of preferences and provide valuable information to policy makers on the design of parental leave and public policies more broadly. Standard economics studies policies and formulate policy advice based on the assumption that individuals respond solely to the changes in incentives, while preferences are stable across different policy settings. However if instead, preferences are formed by social norms and these are amendable to changes in policy, then the standard approach of considering public policy through a lens of narrow economics incentives may be highly misleading. Our project will take the first steps in developing a framework for normative policy analyses when preferences are endogenous to the policy setting.


The coming Pan-European introduction of earmarked leave creates a unique window of opportunity to answer the above questions, and to understand whether earmarked leave can reduce the remaining gender wage gap. Having advance knowledge of a reform of this size enables us to set up and collect systematic evidence on norms, beliefs and perceptions of parents through a set of surveys running continuously across the implementation of the reform. In a first round, we will survey parents to children age 3-6 months. In a second round, we follow up on the same parents when the child is 15-18 months. Combined with register data on actual behavior of parents, this will create an unprecedented data source to evaluate the short and long run effects of earmarked leave.


Despite considerable progress over the past decades, women still earn significantly less than men. Research has shown that children are a key reason for the remaining gender wage gap, as the arrival of children has large, negative and persistent effects on the career trajectory of women, but not men. These facts have created a broad push for policies that change gender norms and increase fathers' role in child rearing. Central among such policies is earmarked parental leave with the recent EU directive that requires all member states to implement at least 9 weeks of earmarked leave by August 2022 as a salient example. Our results will shed light on the success of this policy agenda and inform the debate on the cost and benefits of earmarked parental leave.