Weak link between parental leave and level of employment for women having recently immigrated to Sweden

In a new SNS report, the two researchers show that the utilization of parental benefits by women having recently immigrated to Sweden does not seem to constitute a key explanation behind their lower chances of gaining employment during their first few years in the country. There are differences between newly arrived women utilizing parental benefits and those who do not, but these differences are relatively small.

A number of policy measures have been introduced in recent years to promote the entry of new immigrants into the labor market. In this regard, women have encountered the greatest difficulties in terms of getting established. Parental leave insurance has sometimes been highlighted as an obstacle, and the regulatory framework has been altered to avoid impeding labor market measures.

In a new SNS report, researchers Ann-Zofie Duvander and Eleonora Mussino study how the parental leave utilized by new mothers is linked to subsequent employment. The study includes all women who immigrated between 1995 and 2014 with children under the age of 8. The results show that women utilizing a short period of parental leave during their first year after immigrating constituted the group most likely to study or having an income in subsequent years. Those who utilized a long period of parental leave or no parental leave at all were less active.

“We interpret the results as if some utilization of parental benefits indicates that these women are informed regarding the available types of support, have contact with government agencies and have started the process of getting established in Sweden. At the same time, utilizing full-time parental benefits poses a risk of becoming excluded from the labor market,” says Ann-Zofie Duvander, Professor of Demography at Stockholm University.

Duvander and Mussino highlight that having utilized different levels of parental leave has little impact on future employment. They also conclude that there is significant heterogeneity between women from different countries of birth.
“The woman’s country of birth probably captures factors we do not observe in the study, such as level of education, experience, language skills, networks or available establishment measures” says Ann-Zofie Duvander.

During the period studied, there was relatively unlimited access to parental benefits for people arriving in Sweden with children of pre-school age. The entire parental benefit of 16 months could be used by parents arriving with children under the age of 8. In 2014, a form of age restriction was introduced in terms of when parental benefit days may be used. Additional restrictions were introduced in 2017 so that parents with children over the age of 2 are entitled to 100 days, which roughly corresponds to the number of days that parents with children born in Sweden have left at the same age.

“In the public debate, parental leave is highlighted as a possible obstacle for foreign-born women in terms of getting established in Sweden, but we only see a limited association between parental leave and subsequent employment. That is why the 2017 limitation in the parental benefit insurance will probably not significantly alter the level of employment in this group,” says Eleonora Mussino, Associate Professor of Demography at Stockholm University.

This report is published in the framework of the SNS research project Learnings from Integration.

About the study

This study is based on administrative data on all women immigrating between 1995 and 2014 with children under the age of 8. This material contains data on the mother’s year of immigrating, country of birth, age of the youngest child and number of children. The analyses also control for the marital status and age of the mother and whether the household has received social security benefits during the year in question.

Refugee immigrants and returning Swedish-born women constitute the group utilizing parental benefits the most. Swedish-born women also represent the group to the greatest extent studying or having an income in the second and third years after immigrating. This is the case regardless of whether or how they used parental benefits during their first year in the country. Having more and younger children is associated with a somewhat higher level of utilization, but the differences are small between mothers in this respect.

The study only focuses on mothers since immigrant fathers only to a limited extent utilize parental benefits during their first years in Sweden.

Download the research report summary Parental leave – opportunity or obstacle for integration?