Japan’s environment minister is doing something revolutionary, relatively speaking: He’s taking two weeks of paternity leave. In workaholic Japan — and much of the world — that’s still a major step.

In a news conference Wednesday, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi announced that he’ll take two weeks off after his first child is born this month. Still, there’s a catch: His paternity leave will be spread throughout a three-month period, so as to not detract too much from his demanding work schedule.

“I intend to take a total of two weeks of paternity leave in the three months after childbirth,” Koizumi said, “during which the mother bears the heaviest burden, on the condition that I prioritize my official duties and thorough crisis management, as I have done,” the Japan Times reported.

Koizumi, son of a former prime minister, is considered one possible successor to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Koizumi’s supporters hope that he’ll set a trend for more men to feel comfortable taking paternal time off.

The law on the books in Japan is quite progressive. Both men and women can take up to a year of paid work leave after the birth of a child. But men rarely do.

According to 2018 figures from Japan’s health ministry, 6 percent of working fathers and 82 percent of working mothers either applied for or took child care-related leave. Within that demographic, the largest percentage of men took fewer than five days off. For women, that figure was closer to 10 to 12 months.

Japan has been struggling to address falling birthrates, which some analysts partly attribute to the intense burdens placed on working mothers, coupled with the country’s work culture, in which men face the expectation that they will commit entirely to their jobs.

Japan shows why there are two parts to the paternal-leave equation: First, does a country have a national paid paternal-leave policy? And second, if it does, do fathers use it?

Two-thirds of babies live in countries without paternal leave

Ninety-two countries — where about two-thirds of the world’s children younger than 1 live — don’t have any national policy allowing paid paternity leave, according to 2018 data from UNICEF, the U.N. agency focused on children. For many families around the world, the question remains how to get by, and their governments are not making support on this front a priority.

That includes the United States, which is one of eight countries where there’s no national policy granting either maternal or paternal paid leave. (In the United States, some states have instituted such policies.)

In contrast, Sweden has among the most generous and progressive parental paid-leave policies. The Scandinavian country was the world’s first to implement gender-neutral paid parental leave in 1974. These days, the policies offer parents up to 480 days off per child while receiving 80 percent of their income for 13 of those months.

And it pays off, particularly for women. A 2019 study by economists at Stanford University found that in Sweden’s case, “increasing the father’s temporal flexibility reduces the risk of the mother experiencing physical postpartum health complications and improves her mental health.”

All Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries — except for the United States — provide a national form of paid maternal leave, while more than half offer some compensated time off for new fathers.

The latter is a growing in popularity — albeit slowly.

“Mothers generally use much of their leave entitlements,” the OECD found in 2016. “But the picture is different for fathers. While men commonly take a few days of paternity leave right after the birth of a baby, only the most committed and bravest use their right to longer parental leave.”

In Nordic countries and Portugal, for example, men make up 40 percent of parental-leave users, according to the OECD. That rate falls to 1 in 50 in other countries such as Australia, Poland and the Czech Republic. As of 2016, men accounted for 4 percent of the parental leave taken in Austria and France, a rate that had stayed the same for about a decade. In contrast, from 2006 to 2013, men in Finland doubled their share of the overall parental time taken.

Read more: