BACKGROUND: In 1974, Sweden became the first country to permit fathers to take paid parental leave. Other countries are currently following suit issuing similar laws. While this reform supports the principles of the United Nations convention of the right for children to be with both parents and enshrines the ethos of gender equality, there has been little systematic examination of its potential impact on child health. Instead, there is uninformed debate that fathers may expose their children to greater risks of injury than mothers. In this Swedish national study, the authors therefore assess whether fathers' parental leave can be regarded as a more serious risk factor for child injuries than that of mothers.
METHODS: Nationwide register-based ecological and longitudinal studies of hospitalisation due to injury (and intoxication) in early childhood, involving the Swedish population in 1973-2009 (ecological design), and children born in 1988 and 1989 (n=118 278) (longitudinal design).
RESULTS: An increase in fathers' share of parental leave over time was parallelled by a downward trend in child injury rates (age 0-4 years). At the individual level, the crude incidence of child injury (age 0-2 years) was lower during paternity as compared with maternity leave. This association was, however, explained by parental socio-demographic characteristics (multivariate HR 0.96, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.2).
CONCLUSION: There is no support for the notion that paternity leave increases the risk of child injury.