The term ‘family politics’ was first applied in Norway in the 1950s. Up until then, the family institution was assumed to be stable: engagements were a prior notice for marriage, one was expected to marry at young ages, and children resulted from marriage. The work/life distribution between the sexes was clear, and most of the married women were housewives (Berg, 2013). In the years after 1945, large societal changes emerged in Norway, especially since the 1960s and 70s. Some of these changes were actively enforced by the government such as the Law on Gender Equality (Likestillingsloven) . This law was designed to promote gender equality and, in particular, to improve the position of women. Women and men should be given equal opportunities in education, employment, and cultural and professional development.
Family arrangements have become more diverse, both concerning the broadening of the family term to include non-biological parents and siblings (Berg, 2013) as well as cohabiting, which grew to become an important institution in recent years. For instance, in 2015, 57 % of all children were born to unmarried parents, compared to only 3 % in 1950 (Norwegian Statistics, 2015).
Being part of the welfare state, one gains advantage that in some ways can replace the functions the family once had (Berg, 2013). In many ways, the functions of the family are now substituted by the state.
Cash benefits for childcare
In 1998, the centre-right government introduced cash benefits for childcare to parents of children one or two years of age who do not attend publicly subsidised childcare in the form of a monthly flat rate benefit. From 1 August 2012, cash benefits were discontinued for two year olds. The change applies to both ongoing and new cases starting 1 August 2012. The benefit thus became age graded: 5,000 NOK for children aged 13–18 months and 3,303 NOK for children aged 19–23 months. Either a full or a 50 % benefit will be paid; the latter for children who attend childcare services less than 20 hours/week. In 2015, the rate was 6,000 NOK. This benefit is tax-free.
Those families purchasing private childcare outside of the state subsidised services are thus entitled to the benefit. Children in part-time day care receive a reduced benefit proportionate to stipulated weekly attendance.2 Over time, the benefit’s real value has decreased somewhat, and from 2006 the total benefit period was reduced from 24 to 23 months.
In 1975, the first legislation on kindergartens was passed. Responsibility for development of Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) legislation and for funding and policy was held by the Ministry of Children and Family Affairs (BFD) up to the end of 2005. The Ministry of Education and Research now has responsibility for early childhood education and care, as well as for schools, out-of-school care, and the training of pedagogues. At the regional level, the county governor now has responsibility for both schools and ECEC .
In recent years, greater administrative responsibility has been devolved to the municipalities in Norway, which for the most part, have unified school and early childhood services into one department, resulting in closer cooperation and coordination. The county governor administers state grants to familiebarnehager (family day care), barnehager (kindergarten), and apen barnehager (open kindergartens or drop-in centres for parents and children, led by a trained preschool pedagogue). The county informs and supports the different municipalities in the region on ECEC questions and policy. This involves planning and building ECEC places according to local need, approving new facilities, supervising, and inspecting new services. The municipalities can choose either to own and administer the services themselves or to contract private owners to operate ECEC. There is a national regulatory framework for barnehager, the Kindergartens Act I of 1975, which was revised in 1995 and again on 1 January 2006 (Kindergartens Act II). A new Framework Plan was introduced by the Ministry on 1 March 2006 and entered into force on 1 August. The national Framework Plan for Kindergartens provides guidelines for kindergartens concerning values and objectives, curricular aims, and pedagogical approaches (OECD 2006).
Access and Provision of Kindergartens
The operating hours and annual duration of services vary according to service type. About 47 % of the kindergartens are public (municipal) and cater to 57 % of children using the service. Private kindergartens are more numerous but smaller, and cater to 43 % of children. However, the provision of private kindergartens is growing and by 2005 they were the majority provider. Provision rates are as follows:
- Children one year and under: Care is predominantly home care provided by parents. Only 3 % of children are in centre-based care.
- Children from one to three years: Based on Norwegian government survey data, 42 % of children in this group are cared for full time by parents and 48 % are cared for in ECEC-regulated services. Given the high participation of mothers in the workforce, it may be presumed that some parents are choosing to use family and informal child-minding. The goal of the Ministry is to have full coverage (meeting demand) for preschool children by the year 2006.
- Three to six years: 88 % of all children in this age group are cared for in ECEC services.
- Out-of-school time provision is generally available for children aged six to 12 years. The highest level of usage is made by children aged six years and in the first year of school, 68.2 % of whom access out-of-school care. The overall percentage access for six- to ten-year-olds is 53 %.
Children with diverse needs
- Children with disabilities: Children with disabilities have a priority right to services, provided it is deemed by an expert that the child will benefit from attending the day care institution. In 2003, nearly 2.5 % of children in kindergartens had a disability and 3.2 % received additional support.
- Children from low-income families: The child poverty rate in Norway is 3.4 % after taxes and transfers, compared to the OECD average of 11.2 %. Because of effective redistribution policies, targeting low-income groups is not a focus of ECEC policy, although additional educators may be supplied to centres receiving more migrant or low-income children. Kindergarten is considered to play an important role in terms of preventive child welfare. In cases of children living in at-risk circumstances, places are fully funded by the municipalities. Supports are provided to also enable kindergartens to accommodate children with disabilities, children from low-income families, and bilingual children.
- Ethnic and bilingual children: An indigenous ethnic group, the Sami, constitute 1.7 % of the Norwegian population. Sami-language kindergartens are funded generously wherever there is a concentration of Sami families. New immigrant groups constitute 3 % of the population, with 28,000 children in primary schools (just under 6 % of the school population) registered as non-Norwegian-speaking children. In the one- to six-year-old population, 7.8 % of children (not including children speaking Danish, English, or Swedish as their first language) do not have Norwegian as their first language. Of this group, approximately 50 % are in ECEC services (2003).
Municipalities are responsible for the licensing regimes for family day care and ECEC services and must ensure that all services are registered and undergo annual health and safety checks. Ownership, purpose of the institution (e.g. the particular pedagogical or religious purpose), criteria for access, fees, opening hours, and physical spaces are considered part of licensing. Municipalities have responsibility for supervision and authorisations.
In terms of funding, in 2004, the total expenditure on ECEC amounted to 1.7 % of GDP for children up to six years of age. In 2004, the Parliament set a parental fee of 2,750 NOK/month (about 326€/397 USD) for an ordinary place in ECEC comprising a full day or 41 hours or more per week. Part-time places are charged proportionally. Since 2005, fees should not exceed 20 % of the cost of services – at the moment a maximum of 280€ per month. The costs to the states are as follows: the unit cost for a child under the age of three amounts to 9,773€ per year and 5,355€ per year for a child between the ages of three to six.
These costs do not include the cash benefit home care allowance (see below) or the approximately 20 % of fees that parents contribute. In centres, a separate charge is levied for meals. Municipalities have the duty to provide funding for their own services and for private providers. They also provide subsidies for additional places for families with more than one child in ECEC, even when the children participate in different ECEC services within the municipality. From 1 January 2006, the maximum parental fee was reduced to 2,250 NOK per month, per child.
In addition to family allowances and lone parent (22 % of families) allowances, all parents are allowed tax deductions for care and kindergarten costs.
Parental leave (including maternity protection)
In 1977, the right to publicly financed paid maternity leave was extended from 12 to 18 weeks. During the 1980s, it was extended many times. As of 1993, either parent had the right to 52 weeks of leave with 80 % wage compensation or 42 weeks with full wage compensation . In 2015, this was extended to 49 weeks of leave (or 59 weeks with reduced coverage) . Parents are entitled to parental leave if they worked for at least six of the ten months prior to taking leave. However, parental leave may also be taken flexibly until the child is three years old.
Paid maternity leave is financed by the National Insurance Scheme. About 60,000 children are born each year in Norway (Norway Statistics, 2015). Approximately 85 % of mothers and 70 % of fathers are entitled to the childcare provision. The provision is based on the parent's income and covers the parent's full income, up to six times the National Insurance basic amount (G), on an annual basis. The basic amount is determined by the Norwegian Parliament each year and was 88,370 NOK as of May 2014. Parents must apply to the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) for paid leave. Women who have not accrued the right to paid maternity leave are entitled to a lump-sum maternity grant following a birth (Ministry of Children 2014).
Of the parental benefit period, three weeks before and six weeks after the birth are reserved for the mother for medical reasons. After the birth, ten weeks are reserved for each parent – the maternity and paternity quotas, respectively. The paternity quota (daddy quota) was introduced in 1991, since then, the quota has increased. In 2014, however, the paternal quota was lowered from 14 to ten weeks. For children born after 1 July 2014, the paternal quota is therefore ten weeks. Between January and September 2015, only 17 % of fathers used 14 weeks of their parental leave (nav.no, 2015).
In the years prior to the introduction of the paternal quota, less than 4 % of fathers took parental leave. After the quota was introduced, the take-up rate was over 70 %, and data from recent public records show that 90 % of fathers take some leave (Brandth and Kvandt 2013).
With every expansion of the paternal quota, fathers increase their uptake the following year. In 2012, 21 % of the fathers took exactly 12 weeks (60 working days), compared to only 0.6 % in 2011; the father’s quota increased from ten to 12 weeks between these two dates. Flexible use is increasing as the father’s quota has been lengthened. In 2012, 21 % of eligible fathers took their father’s quota part time, combining leave and work (Brandth and Kvandt 2013).
The shareable parental leave is, for the most part, taken by mothers and has in practice become maternity leave. In 2012, only 15 % of fathers took any of this part of parental leave (i.e. in addition to the father’s quota). A father’s use of this leave is dependent on the mother and her willingness to share: Mothers who have invested in education and have strong ties to working life (e.g. work full time and have higher status at work) are thus most likely to share. This means that fathers are more likely to take some parental leave when mothers have a high educational level, high income and working status, and full-time employment (Brandth and Kvandt 2013).
However, some characteristics of the fathers are also associated with the leave use. Although class differences are small, the father’s level of education has some influence, particularly on the length of the leave. The eligible fathers least likely to use the quota are fathers with long working hours, in managerial positions, or with a wife who works part time (Brandth and Kvandt 2013).
In addition to the child benefit, a worker is entitled to up to ten days of sickness benefits (20 days for single parents) for absence each year to attend to a sick child or if the childminder falls ill. Workers with more than two children are entitled to 15 days (30 days for single parents). The sickness/care benefit is also paid to workers taking care of a child suffering from a chronic illness up to the child’s 18th birthday (Lov om folketrygd 2015).
As of 2015, a family allowance is granted to parents when a child is born or adopted and is given to support all families with children. The family allowance is paid to all parents of children under the age of 18 who live in Norway and is currently set at 970 NOK per month (2016). Single parents are entitled to the family allowance for one child more than they actually live with (extended child benefit). Foster parents, another carer, or a child care institution can receive the child benefit if the child lives there permanently (for more than three months). Single parents with children under the age of three receive an additional 660 NOK allowance per month. Until 1 April 2014, parents in the northern part of Norway (municipality of Finnmark and parts of Troms) were entitled to an extra allowance of 320 NOK a month. To receive the family allowance, the child must live in Norway.
For children under the age of 12, parents may also deduct upwards to 25,000 NOK in care-related expenses including organised activities (as long as the activity is discontinued before 17:00) for the first child and 15,000 NOK for each additional child. The tax break may be continued after the age of 12 if the child has special needs.
Civil unions for same-sex partners were legalised in 1991. In 2009, same-sex marriages were legalised in Norway through an amendment to the Marriage Act (Lødrup, 2014). Persons under 18 years of age cannot marry unless they have approval from a parent or legal guardian and the county governor. Individuals under 16 cannot marry, nor can persons who are directly related. Bigamy, when one is married to two or more persons at the same time, is illegal.
Marriage can only take place if the bride and groom are both legal residents in Norway. Both parties must state that they marry voluntarily and recognise each other’s reciprocal right for divorce. The marriage ceremony is mandatory. A public notary or a judge must hold a civic ceremony. The ceremony can also be held in church or any other religious community that receives government subsides. All ceremonies must be held in front of at least two witnesses.
The right to divorce, as understood in our context as de facto unilateral, no-fault divorce, was granted by law in 1909 (Lov om adgang til opløsning av egteskap) . In Norway, divorce is granted by the County Governor or, in exceptional cases, sentenced by a jury. In most cases, a set period of separation is required in order to get divorced. If the County Governor has granted separation, divorce can be demanded. In such cases, it is the County Governor that grants the divorce. If the spouses have moved out of their shared residence without granted separation and they have children under the age of 16, they must attend mediation and may only file for divorce after two years. However, if one of the spouses or child has been mistreated or threatened, divorce can be demanded without a period of separation. In such cases, it is always a court of law that grants the divorce (Bull, 2014).
Since 1990, the rate of divorce has increased. In the last few years, the numbers seem to have stabilised, with around 10,000 divorces every year. This amounts to 40 % of all marriages. Since the number of cohabiting couples has increased; less can be said about the actual number of couples breaking up based on the number of divorces. Most marriages break apart four to eight years after marriage. Couples with children divorce less frequently. Norway has roughly the same rate of divorce as the rest of Scandinavia, which is high compared to other parts of Europe (Noack, 2012).
Cohabitation and civil unions
Cohabitation without marriage is becoming more popular as a form of relationship. About 27 % of all couples cohabit. This form of cohabitation could be compared with a stage of engagement before marriage. Both cohabitation and engagement represent a pre-marriage trial period (Noack and Østby, 1981). In 1977, 73 % of people aged 20-44 were married. In 1999, the percentage was down to 42 % (Eriksen, 2001).
In 2004, marriage was still the most common choice for living together; however, 26 % of the adult population cohabited. Today, for couples under the age of 30, the most common living arrangement is cohabitation (Baran, Diehnelt, and Jones, 2014). There is no legal document regulating the practice of cohabitation, but there is a law regulating the termination of such practice if the parties have lived together for at least two years or if they have or are expecting a child together.
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