Expansion of paternity leave in Spain reduces birth rate

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paternity leave

The expansion of paternity leave in Spain may have a negative effect on the birth rate. This warning comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in their recent report, Society at a Glance. The combination of family life and work “can be difficult” in Spain, particularly due to “very long working hours for fathers,” according to the OECD report.

As a result, parents have become more aware of the non-financial costs of having a child and less enthusiastic about having another child.

Low birth rate and older mothers

In 2023, Spain recorded one of the lowest fertility rates among the 38 OECD countries, with only 1.2 children per woman. This is comparable to France and only higher than South Korea, where the rate is 0.7. The average age for the birth of the first child in Spain has risen to 32 years. Despite efforts to increase birth rates and promote equality in caregiving, these measures, combined with other factors, sometimes seem to have the opposite effect.

Effects of expanded paternity leave

Until 2007, fathers in Spain had only two days off at the birth of a child. This was extended to two weeks until 2017 and then to four weeks. Since 2021, both parents have been entitled to a non-transferable leave period of 16 weeks at the birth of a child. According to an academic study from 2019, the extension of paternity leave to two weeks in 2007 led to a delay in the birth of the first child and a lower likelihood of having a second child within six years. The increased involvement of fathers in child care may have increased mothers’ participation in the labour market, raising the costs of having an additional child.

Comparison with other countries

Spain is the only OECD and EU country where these negative effects of expanded paternity leave have been observed. South Korea has shown a similar trend, where fathers who took family leave were less likely to want another child. Conversely, Germany has set a positive example, where the expansion of paternity leave in 2007 led to higher birth rates and more father involvement in caregiving.

OECD recommendations

A key factor in Spain and South Korea is the difficult balance between work and family, especially due to long working hours for fathers. According to Spain’s INE, male employees work an average of 37.1 hours per week, compared to 33.1 hours for women. Additionally, in Spain, there are often difficulties with the accessibility and affordability of childcare for children under three years old.

The OECD concludes that the increased awareness of the non-financial costs of raising children has led parents to be less enthusiastic about having more children. The organisation emphasises that policies aimed at reducing job insecurity can have a positive effect on fertility. For example, subsidies from local governments in Spain in 1997 to convert temporary jobs into permanent ones led to a rise in fertility by 1.43%.


Another policy that increased birth rates in Spain was the universal child benefit between 2007 and 2010, known as the ‘cheque-bebé,’ which provided a payment of €2,000 at the birth of a child. This subsidy led to a 3% increase in the birth rate. However, the cancellation of this program in 2010 resulted in a subsequent 6% drop in the birth rate.

The Sumar party proposes introducing a universal child benefit of €200 per month until the age of 18, inspired by the measure from the Zapatero government. The family policy bill is currently being discussed in Congress and also includes a child benefit of €100 per month for each child under three years old to reduce child poverty.

Also read: Spain among the world’s top countries for equal parental leave

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