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July 21, 2011

The World's Best Country for Women

Every Mother's Wish

best countries for women

Photo Credit: Martin Adolfsson

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Although most Swedish women work, the country has one of the highest birth rates in Europe, thanks to generous laws on parental leave. "We're lucky, because we can have our careers and our families," says Anna Eriksson, 29, the head of production at a TV company. Anna and her partner, Henrik Persson, 33, live just outside Stockholm with their 16-month-old son and have another baby on the way. Swedish couples — women and men — get 13 months paid leave and another three months at a fixed rate. Of that, 60 days must be taken by the mother, another 60 by the father, and the rest can be divided however they choose. (New mothers in the U.S. who have worked one year receive 12 weeks unpaid leave.) "The system means there's no financial hardship," says Anna, "and your job is still waiting for you afterward." (By law, employers must hold a new mother's job for her for the duration of her maternity leave.)

Anna spent seven months at home after her son, Melvin, was born, and then Henrik, a computer consultant, took over so she could return to work. Henrik leaped at the chance to be a stay-at-home dad: "I wanted to bond with my son. My job is not more important than Anna's, so there was no reason not to stay home," he says.

It's 8 a.m. in their two-story home, decorated in classic Swedish style with pale wood and clean white walls, and Henrik is preparing muesli and coffee for Anna's breakfast. Melvin cried all night because of an ear infection, so both Mom and Dad are sleep-deprived. "We have the usual stresses of new parenthood," says Anna. "But the roles are reversed: Henrik is desperate for adult conversation when I get home at night, and sometimes I just want to sit in front of the TV."

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