Earlier this year the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) has published a study which provides eligibility rates for each of the Member States and an overview of the main eligibility criteria that they have set. An intersectional perspective helps to identify which groups of women and men are most disadvantaged and most often left out of the parental-leave schemes. In the light of the directive on work–life balance for parents and carers, parental-leave policies are becoming increasingly more important as a work–life balance measure. It is therefore important to know how effective and inclusive these policies are.
Parental leave is an important policy measure for supporting work–life balance. When both parents are eligible for parental leave, it can also contribute to a more equal sharing of caring and household responsibilities, which is good for gender equality. Across Europe, we are witnessing a number of work-related, demographic and cultural trends, which make eligibility for parental leave more relevant than ever. Women are continuing to enter the workforce in growing numbers, temporary and short-term employment contracts are rising, birth rates are low and families are diversifying. Parental leave is crucial to sustain both women’s employment and population growth in the European Union. Without the protection of paid leave or job security while on parental leave, women might drop out of the labour market to care for young children. Potential parents might even reconsider having a child. Parental leave is also important for men who are otherwise unlikely to take time off work to care for their newborn. When men take up parental leave, it helps them to engage more in this new phase of their family life and share caring responsibilities more equally.
In the European Union, there is a growing trend in short-term contracts and self-employment options, which offer less security and stability than traditional forms of employment. They are also having an impact on eligibility for parental leave in some countries. Zero-hour contracts related to the gig economy are especially prevalent among young people with lower education. Potential parents in these precarious situations might find themselves ineligible for parental leave. Just as work arrangements are changing, so too are family arrangements. Parental-leave policies need to be adjusted to fit diverse family types. For a more inclusive Europe, single-parent families, adoptive families, mixed families and LGBTQI+ families need to be covered under parental-leave schemes. With a new directive on work–life balance for parents and carers in place, Member States need to start thinking about how to implement more inclusive social-protection measures.