Dads at home – more money, more state or different mindset?

In the V4, childcare is traditionally seen as a woman’s responsibility, thus parental leave legislation has been tailored for mothers. But men are also key stakeholders, so why are fathers still left out of the equation?

Photo: Helgi Halldorsson

19. 05. 2016
Staying home to take care of small children is almost exclusively a women’s business in the V4 – the share of men registered for parental leave does not exceed 2% in any of the region’s countries. Why do we still not see a higher share of stay-at-home men even today, in the age of the “modern dads” who are not afraid to change their babies’ diapers?

“It is good now – so much better than it was in the past,” smiles Ewa, the mother of a three-year-old son and one-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She just went back to work a few months ago after using all possible maternal leave after the birth of her daughter.

“It is better, but only for women,” her husband Tomasz interjects bitterly. “I wanted to take a paternity leave – just the two weeks that are guaranteed to fathers – but I could feel that it would not be seen well at work.”

Tomasz belongs to new generation of men, who want to get involved in childcare, but face numerous obstacles. “Actually,” he continues, “I think that men are now much more discriminated against than women. When a woman takes maternity leave, it is natural and normal. When a man wants to take a leave and take care of his baby, it is suspicious and nobody trusts him…”

While it is often argued that children need both parents, many public policies are built on the assumption that men are ill-equipped for fulfilling familial responsibilities and women are and should be the primary care-givers. 1 Social policies then only replicate specific gender perceptions and compound the problem. 2

Fathers on the scene

Fathers taking paternity leave are, “more likely to take an active role in childcare tasks long after the period of leave has ended,” encouraging “longer-term benefits for a child’s learning abilities.” 3 And conversely, a child, taken care of by his father during early childhood, is more likely to imitate this when he is an adult, practicing a more gender-equitable distribution of duties within his own family later. 4

It would then seem reasonable for the state to provide employed fathers an, “employment-protected leave of absence at or in the first few months after childbirth,” as the paternity leave is formally defined. 5

Many EU countries have established some sort of paternity leave: in France, fathers can take 28 weeks; in Portugal, 21 weeks, in Belgium, 19; in Sweden and Norway, 10; and in Slovenia, UK or Denmark, 2. However, these policies have been the jurisdiction of each member state, and, as a 2015 study commissioned by the European Parliament (EP) confirms, there is no “legal instrument of the EU that requires the member states to introduce a minimum standard regarding a father’s leave at the occasion of the birth of a child.” It also adds that the EP is ready to propose a two-week minimum paternity leave standard for all member states. 6

In the V4 only Poland provides a two-week-long paternity leave. 7 This entitlement was introduced in 2010 and one in six fathers took advantage of the leave until August 2011. 8 In 2014, almost 130,000 fathers took at least one day of the leave, compared to only 28,500 in 2013. 9 Poland is followed by Hungary with one, fully-covered week, which 21,932 fathers took advantage of in 2010 and 22,510 used in 2013. 10

Despite the growing demand for it, the Czech Republic does not provide any special paternity leave now, although there have been efforts to implement it in the past unsuccessfully. 11 In a 2003 representative poll, 54% of respondents agreed with introducing a fathers´ leave. 12 In 2008, the government proposed a five-week paternity leave, however it failed to push the law through the legislative process. 13

For an illustration, when Czech TV NOVA asked its viewers in a 2014 non-representative, online poll whether they supported a paid fathers´ leave, more than 90% of the 5,175 participants said yes. 14 At the end of 2015, the Czech Ministry of Social Affairs finalized the proposal for a new ration within the healthcare system. A father will soon be able to apply for a one-week vacancy, receiving 70% of his gross salary from the state, within the first six weeks of his new baby’s birth. The law should enter into force in 2017. 15

In 2015 two MPs from the opposition in Slovakia proposed the launch of a one-week-long father-leave, which, they argued, would substantially improve the familial atmosphere and help mothers returning home from hospitals. 16 The proposal was not passed.

So Czech and Slovak fathers must still take days from their regular leave in order to be with their newborns, and thus have less days free to spend with their children the rest of year. 17 A few days, so no big deal, right? But the Slovak example sends a message about the government´s true commitment to pro-family policies.

Paternity leave would be a relief for most fathers who have to opt for holidays or unpaid leave, and primarily for those receiving lower-incomes. 18 Currently, as The Economist pointed out, it is the fathers of higher-income families that can afford to take time off, because paternity leaves tend to be, “short and poorly paid.” 19

The societal prejudices may be problematic as well, as Tomasz confirmed at the beginning of our story. Employers more easily tolerate a woman on maternity leave than they do a man on paternity leave, because of men’s traditional role as the main bread-winner of the family.

So the laws and regulations are one thing, and the customs are something altogether different. I ask Tomasz how we should change that. “Leave for the fathers of newborn babies should simply be obligatory,” he says. “This is the only way to fight discrimination.”

Parental leave: the more, the better?

For a long time, Poland has been the exception among the V4 countries. Before 1989, Poland had the shortest leave in the Central Europe – just four months – compared to four years in Czechoslovakia. Now Poland’s maximum duration for parental leave is 32 weeks 20 and 20 weeks of basic maternal leave. A man can take six weeks to care for his child, and a mother can take 14 weeks, while the six additional weeks of parental leave can be shared by both parents the way it suits them. However, this parental leave entirely depends on the mother: the father’s right to parental leave depends on the mother’s eligibility for, and use of, maternity leave. 21

In Hungary, the maximum duration of parental leave is 136 weeks. 22 It is divided into two periods for insured parents: from the end of maternity leave until a child´s second birthday parents receive 70% of their previous earnings, with a ceiling of 473 euros (147,000 HUF) per month; and then they receive a flat-rate benefit equal to 91 euros (28,500 HUF) per month until the child´s third birthday. 23

In the Czech Republic, the maximum duration of parental leave is reached by a child’s third birthday. There are two options: a 24-month option for which the employee receives 70% of their monthly earnings with a ceiling of 425 euros (11,500 CZK) per month; or a 48-month option were they receive 259 euros (7,000 CZK) per month. 24 The legislation on paternal leave was put into effect in 1990, but, as the demographer Jiřina Kocourková argues, “truly equal conditions for both parents were not introduced until January 2001.” 25 From then on, the number rose from almost eight men out of 1,000, to 15 out of 1,000 in 2008, and 18 out of 1,000 in 2013. 26

In Slovakia, the maximum duration of parental leave is also reached by a child’s third birthday, and those take advantage of the provision receive a flat-rate benefit of 203 euros per month. 27 As Daniel Gerbery points out, “the number of men receiving parental allowance is extremely low. In 2011, men accounted for 1% of all recipients.” 28

The number of women and men receiving parental leave benefits could be an indicator of how many men are actually on parental leave. Staying home to take care of small children is almost exclusively a women’s business in the V4 – the share of men registered for parental leave does not exceed 2% in any of the region’s countries.

Back to work? No so fast

When parental leave is over, many women and men must either want or need to get back to work and put their careers back on track. The employment rates for women, and especially for mothers – particularly those with young children (and we can only assume that men might face similar problems that women do after a paternal leave) in the V4 – like Slovakia´s at 54.3% and the Czech Republic´s at 60.7% are low compared to other EU countries, like Germany’s at 69.5% or Sweden’s at 73.1%. 29

Today many young Czech women pursue higher education, entering the labor market later, and after entering their chosen fields are soon faced with the career vs family dilemma. In the weekly, Týden, the Czech Minister of Social Affairs Michaela Marksová, said the Czech Republic wastes educated women’s potential and punishes them, “for putting their motherhood on the labor market.” 30

From a macroeconomic point of view, women represent “pockets of under-utilized labor resources,” and according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) 2014 economic survey getting them back in the labor market by 2030 would increase the annual per capita GDP by 0.5%. 31 And economists think the shorter the duration for parental leave, the better; one of OECD´s recommendations is to dramatically cut parental leave and the advantages connected with it, enabling mothers to go back to work sooner. 32

The OECD’s recommendations may seem a bit brutal for many mothers and fathers. There is a difference between enabling women and men to go to work by making it a viable option, and forcing them to do so by cutting their financial support. Many parents might not find the GDP growth as important as the well-being and safety of their children.

However, no matter what the economic benefits – for states or for mothers – parting with a baby is always very difficult. The economic arguments may not counterbalance the anxieties and worries new mothers or fathers face, even when the benefit of going back to work early may seem clear. The main focus should be supporting parents who are making this difficult step, and that means providing them with reliable daycare options, flexible working hours or the possibility of working remotely.

Reorganizing life after the arrival of a baby and going back to work is complicated. 33 It is not uncommon for returning mothers to be demoted or fired, so some react by “chaining” their parental leaves. Sociologist Jitka Kolářová noted that she had met women, “who want to get a job after a 10-year period of maternal leave.” 34

Yet it is not an irresolvable situation. The majority of women in France or Belgium are able to get back to work – some just a few months after giving birth. 35 Of course they are offered plenty of options for childcare, from daycares to corporate kindergartens, or they hire professional nannies. 36 These mothers can also afford to work part-time as well, which allows more time for child-rearing. 37 Nearly 77% of Dutch women and 46% of German women work part-time, while only 6.8% of women do so in Slovakia, 8.3% in Hungary, 9.5% in the Czech Republic, and 10.3% in Poland. 38

Where have all the kindergartens gone?

On her first birthday, Jagoda was happily playing with the gifts her parents showered her with. Her mother, Gabi, was trying to forget that this birthday means her maternal leave is over and that she has to return to work. Parting with her daughter for nine hours a day – eight working hours plus the commute (without traffic), was a gloomy prospect. But a bigger problem is figuring out who will take care of her daughter while she is working.

Gabi knows the best solution would be working from home. She would avoid both the stress of parting with her baby, and the challenges this poses for breast feeding, which would make her a more effective employee. Of course, these sort of arrangements are only possible in some professions, but flexibility is still key for working mothers and fathers as well. The availability of an affordable nursery school is also a good solution, but these are lacking in Poland.

The insufficient development of childcare and pre-primary education is actually one of Poland´s major structural weakness. 39 This is a problem in the countryside and in some rapidly developing districts of big towns, where many residential buildings have gone up, but the rest of the city infrastructure – like kindergartens, schools, shops or post offices – is lagging.

When looking at EU statistics on the enrollment of children, age zero to two, in formal childcare, the V4 countries are ranked at the very end of the list. While France has 49.7% or Denmark 67%, Slovakia only has 3.1% and Hungary has 16.1% of their toddlers enrolled. The V4 countries also score relatively poor in the enrollment of children, age three to five, in pre-primary education when compared to other EU countries. So while the Netherlands has 94.1% or France 99.6%,  Poland only has 69.2%, and Hungary, 87.7% of their pre-school-aged children enrolled. 40

Many Polish parents thus rely on the help of their own parents, but if relatives cannot help, then only two options remain: a nanny or a private nursery. While private nurseries are rather expensive, hiring a nanny is even more costly. 41 If Gabi were to hire one, it would cost more than half of her salary.

Czech parents also face the problem of limited affordable and convenient daycare facilities because of the steep drop in their numbers in the 1990s. 42 The young people, who experienced the ‘89 transformation, favored careers and traveling and got married and/or had children later than their parents. 43 As a result, there were not many children to place in childcare facilities for a number of years, and thus the state and municipalities decided not to prioritize them. But when this generation finally did decide to have children (in their 30s, instead of their 20s) these facilities were dramatically lacking.

The obligation to establish and maintain these facilities were transferred from the state to regional level institutions and municipalities, without transferring appropriate funds. Moreover, the nurseries began to be classified as healthcare facilities, which made them more costly to maintain and operate. 44

The result has been the state not being able to guarantee that all kids will be placed in public kindergartens, even when they’re almost five years old. Thus the parents of more than 55,000 three-year-olds are faced with either staying at home another year, or using private kindergartens. 45 No wonder 80% of parents (mostly women) – with a child under three, stay home. 46 The childcare centers´ capacities are not distributed evenly and parents in larger cities have even more difficulty placing their kids in these institutions. Instead many working mothers must rely on nannies, their own relatives or private institutions. 47

In order to find sustainable and viable solutions to the V4’s parental leave problems and to the other issues the region faces with employment-related policies meant to support new parents, men must figure more prominently in the equation. Viewing men as key stakeholders would certainly further the debate. 48

But what is needed to improve the situation? Is it new legislation, more state institutions’ involvement, a budget increase or perhaps a different mindset? And the answer is a symbiotic mix of all of these, tailored for each society.

Several revisions to current family policies are needed in order to provide mothers and fathers the ability to care for their newly-born offspring. The provision of reliable daycare options, flexible working hours or the possibility of working remotely will help parents re-balance the childcare burden in a more equitable way between the sexes. New legislation would support a change in public opinion and would modify assumptions about men not being fit care-givers, and this would also simultaneously improve women’s employment and help to shrink the gender wage gap.

Patrycja Bukalska contributed research to this article.

The full data visualisation is available here. In case you would like to receive the full data set for either country or the whole V4, send us an email at rebecca(at)

The article is part of the project “Learning about causes and effects of gender (im)balance in Central Europe” funded by the European Union flag_yellow_high
The content series was created by the V4Revue, not by the funder.


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  2. Ibid.
  3. “The benefits of paternity leave,” The Economist, May 5, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,; Huerta, M. et al., “Fathers’ Leave, Fathers’ Involvement and Child Development: Are They Related? Evidence from Four OECD Countries,” OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, 140 (2013): 4-40, accessed April 2, 2016,
  4. Huerta, p. 40.
  5. OECD’s Social Policy Division – Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD Family Database, February 28, 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,
  6. Erika Schulze & Maja Gergoric, “Maternity, paternity and parental leave: Data related to duration and compensation rates in the European Union,” Directorate General for Internal Policies, Policy Department C: Citizen´s Rights and Constitutional Affairs, Women´s Rights and Gender Equality, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,
  7. OECD’s Family database, February 28, 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,
  8. 16,600 out of the 100,000 entitled fathers.
  9. Godzenie ról rodzinnych i zawodowych. Równe traktowanie rodziców na rynku pracy, Biuletyn Rzecznika Praw Obywatelskich 2015, nr7, accessed April 2, 2016,; Piotr Michoń, Anna Kurowska & Irena Kotowska, Poland, International Network on Leave Policies and Research, April 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,
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  12. Postoje populace k rodičovské, příp. otcovské dovolené mužů / The opinion poll on the paternal and fathers´ leave among the Czech population (1,067 respondents), April 2003, accessed April 2, 2016,
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  14. Volno pro otce po narození dítěte: Jaký je váš názor? Anketa / An opinion poll: What is your opinion? Should fathers be allowed to have a paid vacancy after the birth of their child?, November 24, 2014, accessed April 2, 2016,
  15. Otcovská dovolená: Týden volna za 70 procent platu, návrh míří do vlády, December 9, 2015,
  16. Otcovská dovolenka realitou: Užijú si muži týždeň voľna navyše?, January 12, 2015,–Uziju-si-muzi-tyzden-volna-navyse-.
  17. Otcovská dovolenka po pôrode? Nuž, nie – poslancom sa to nepáči, March 19, 2015, TASR,
  18. Michoń, Kurowska, & Kotowska, Poland, accessed April 2, 2016,
  19. “The benefits of paternity leave,” The Economist, May 5, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,
  20. Parental leave is defined as “employment-protected leave of absence for employed parents, which is often supplementary to specific maternity and paternity leave periods, and frequently, but not in all countries, follows the period of maternity leave.” See: OECD’s Social Policy Division – Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, OECD Family database, February 28, 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,; OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.C: Statutory maternity leave arrangements, 2015 (as applicable to legislation in April 2015), accessed April 2, 2016,
  21. Michoń, Kurowska & Kotowska, Poland, accessed April 2, 2016, 49 Staying home with children for a longer time does not look as promising. In 2014, 315,800 parents took advantage of the parental leave benefit, 310,600 women and 5,200 (1.65%) men. 50Ibid.; OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.F: Statutory leave arrangements, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,; Ojcowie na tacierzyńskim -​ istoty z innej planety, October, 13, 2014, accessed April 2, 2016,,1342,title,Ojcowie-na-tacierzynskim-istoty-z-innej-planety,wid,16953221,wiadomosc.html?ticaid=116c78.
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  23. OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.F: Statutory leave arrangements, 2015 (as applicable to legislation in April 2015), accessed April 2, 2016,
  24. OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.C,; OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.F, both accessed April 2, 2016,
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  26. Ibid.
  27. OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.C: Statutory maternity leave arrangements,; OECD Family database, Table PF2.1.F: Statutory leave arrangements, both accessed April 2, 2016,
  28. Daniel Gerbery, Slovak Republic, International Network on Leave Policies and Research, April 2014, accessed April 2, 2016,
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  30. Radka Smejkalová, “Mateřství za trest/Motherhood as a Punishment,” Týden, April 22, 2014, p. 32.
  31. OECD Economic Surveys, Czech Republic, Overview, March 2014, p. 3.
  32. Smejkalová, p. 32. See also O. Thévenon & A. Solaz, “Labour Market Effects of Parental Leave Policies in OECD Countries,” p. 40.
  33. Smejkalová, p. 32.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Ibid.
  36. Ibid.
  37. Ibid.
  38. “The incidence of part-time work differs significantly between men and women. Just under one third (32.2 %) of women aged 15–64 who were employed in the EU – 28% worked on a part-time basis in 2014, a much higher proportion than the corresponding share for men (8.8 %). More than three quarters (76.7 %) of all women employed in the Netherlands worked on a part-time basis in 2014, by far the highest rate among the EU Member States. […] By contrast, part-time employment was relatively uncommon in Bulgaria (2.5 % of those employed) as well as Slovakia, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Hungary (between 5.1 % and 5.5 %).” See: Employment Statistics, Eurostat: statistics explained (Table 4), March 17, 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,
  39. OECD Economic Surveys, Poland, Overview, March 2014, p. 25.
  40. OECD Family Database – Public policies for families and children; Enrolment in childcare and pre-school, accessed April 2, 2016, See also Maciej Sobociński, “Polityka rodzinna w Polsce. W stronę zrównoważonego modelu,” Instytut Spraw Publicznych, (2014):9, accessed April 2, 2016,; European Commission, “Barcelona objectives. The development of childcare facilities for young children in Europe with a view to sustainable and inclusive growth,” 2013, accessed April 2, 2016,; EUROPA: European Platform for Investing in Children, Country profiles – Hungary, “Hungary: Developing childcare services to help parents back to work,” 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,; EUROPA: European Platform for Investing in Children, Country profiles – Slovakia, “Slovakia: a focus on encouraging parents and older people into the workplace,” 2016, accessed April 2, 2016,
  41. Maciej Orłowski, “Co skłoni Polaków do posiadania dzieci? Żłobki najważniejsze,” Gazeta Wyborcza, December, 17, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,,75478,17142439,Co_skloni_Polakow_do_posiadania_dzieci__Zlobki_najwazniejsze.html#ixzz3lobRPjlJ.
  42. OECD Economic Surveys, Czech Republic, Overview, March 2014, p. 23-24, accessed April 2, 2016,
  43. Tomáš Sobotka, Anna Šťastná, Kryštof Zeman, Dana Hamplová & Vladimíra Kantorová, “Czech Republic: A rapid transformation of fertility and family behaviour after the collapse of state socialism,” Demographic Research, 19 (2008): 403-454, accessed April 2, 2016,
  44. I OECD Economic Surveys, Czech Republic, Overview, March 2014, p. 23-24, accessed April 2, 2016,
  45. Smejkalová, p. 32.
  46. Ibid.
  47. OECD Economic Surveys, Czech Republic, Overview, March 2014, p. 23-24, accessed April 2, 2016,
  48. Original quote: “the best way to improve women’s career prospects is instead to turn to the dads.” See: “The benefits of paternity leave,” The Economist, May 5, 2015, accessed April 2, 2016,
Jan Adamec

Jan Adamec

is editor of the V4Revue, historian and political scientist. His area of expertise is the history of Hungary, USSR and Czechoslovakia 1948 – 1957. He graduated from Central European University in Budapest and Charles University in Prague where he currently completes his PhD degree with thesis about the Hungarian uprising in 1956.