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October 2019 - Parental leave: taken differently by men and women

Brussels Institute for Statistics and Analysis (BISA) - In the Spotlight - Parental leave of Brussels residents

In the Brussels-Capital Region, there are more women than men who suspend their careers to care for their children. The proportion of men who take parental leave is rising, but they do not opt for the same type of leave. While women tend to take full time parental leave, men are more likely to reduce their working time by one fifth. It is particularly during the first year after birth that Brussels residents (and, again, mainly women) make use of their parental leave.

One quarter of all parental leave is taken by men

Employees have the opportunity to reduce their working hours or suspend their careers over a few months to care for a child younger than 12. These employees are entitled to an allowance from the National Employment Office (NEO). In 2018, Brussels residents received on average 4,144 of these allowances each month, of which 73% were directed to women. In 2010, it was 80% of the allowances that were directed to women. Parental leave is therefore slowly becoming more masculine.

Parental leave of Brussels residents by type and sex: 2018 (annual average)

Source: NEO

Parental leave can be taken in various forms:

  • employees can suspend their careers full-time for a total of four months per child;
  • full-time employees can reduce their working time by half for a total of 8 months, or by 1/5 for a total of 20 months1

Men and women do not take the same type of parental leave. Women are more likely to take full-time leave than men (37% of the payments made to Brussels women compensated for a full-time career suspension, while this proportion was only 21% for men). Men are more likely to reduce their working time by 1/5 (73% of the payments, as compared to 57% for women). The option of working half-time is not popular among neither men nor women.

A peak in the summer holidays

July and August are the preferred months to take parental leave. During those months, the average number of payments reaches 5,314 (5,605 in August), as compared to an average of 3,910 in the months outside the summer holiday period. The most frequent option is full-time leave (55% of the payments, compared to 27% for the other months).

Many women take their parental leave during the first year of their child

The average age of a Brussels mother at the birth of her child is 31.6 years (as compared to 30.4 years in the Flemish Region and 30.3 years in the Walloon Region) . It is therefore not surprising that 60% of all parental leave allowance is paid out to people aged 30-39.

Parental leave of Brussels residents by age of child: 2018 (annual average)

Source: NEO

The graph above shows the number of payments made, broken down by age of the child at the time of payment3. Two observations are immediately apparent:

  • almost a third of the payments are related to a child younger than 1 (1,318 of an average of 4,144 payments to residents of Brussels);
  • it is mainly women who take parental leave in the first year after the birth of their child. For more than half of these women (52%), this involves a full-time career suspension of at least one month.


Methodology and source

The statistics on parental leave come from the NEO. The National Employment Office is responsible for both unemployment insurance and for employee career suspension. Aside from parental leave, there are other types of career suspension or working time reduction that allow to care for a child, such as “time-credit” in the private sector or ordinary career suspension in the public sector. Parental leave is by far the most common method used by Brussels residents, however. Since June 2019, the conditions for parental leave have become more flexible, allowing for example for the new possibility of reducing working time by 1/10 with the employer's agreement, or for a shorter period.

The statistics from this “In the spotlight” are based on the number of payments made by the NEO per month to compensate for loss of income. Therefore, unpaid leave is not accounted for in these statistics.

In principle, someone with a full-time suspension is only entitled to 4 months' allowance from the NEO per child, as compared to 8 months for half-time and 20 months for 1/5. This has an influence on the annual averages per type of leave discussed above.


 More information?

Find the statistics for parental leave, career suspension, time-credit and other forms of thematic leave, under the “Labour market” theme on the BISA website.


[1] Since June 2019, the conditions for parental leave have become more flexible, allowing to reduce working time by 1/10 with the employer's agreement. This is not yet included in the figures given here.
[3] It is important to note that these figures do not take into account the existence or absence of siblings. For example, a person can take parental leave for a 5-year-old child, just after the birth of their second or third child, in order to exhaust the leave related to the first child before the first child reaches the age of 12.