The Nordic Gender Paradox

Nordic gender equallity

A book to publiched on April 19, 2016, by Dr. Nima Sanandaji

“This book does a terrific job of dissecting why women in the world’s most gender-equal countries fail to live up to their potential. While it may seem that everything in the Nordic nations is stacked in favour of working women, Sanandaji explains the obstacles and incentives preventing women from reaching the top. From high tax wedges and the large welfare state, to the penalties on self-employment and the nationalisation of key female-led sectors, women in Nordic nations are encouraged to work hard, but not too hard. Setting conventional wisdom about the gender gap on its head, The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox is a lesson in market-oriented feminism.”
— Rachel Cunliffe, Deputy editor CapX

QUICK FACT 1 – NORDIC SOCIETIES HAVE A HISTORY OF GENDER EQUALITY
Already during the time of the Vikings, Norse societies stood out by granting women more freedom and power than other parts of Europe. The uniquely gender equal Nordic culture seems to have persisted throughout the Middle Ages to the modern era. Sweden was for example a pioneer when it came to open up early capitalism for women’s participation. The World Value Survey shows that Nordic societies also today have uniquely gender equal norms.

QUICK FACT 2 – NORDIC COUNTRIES HAVE SURPRISINGLY FEW WOMEN AT THE TOP
One could expect the Nordic societies to be leading when it comes to the share of women at top. After all, these countries combine a gender equal culture with a high participation rate of women in the labour market and policies formed to encourage working mothers. However various international rankings all paint the same picture: there are surprisingly few women who reach managerial positions in the Nordics, particularly so in private enterprise. For example, while 32% of directors and chief executives in private enterprise are women in Eastern and Central Europe, the share is only 13% in the Nordics.

QUICK FACT 3 – THE AMERICAN MODEL LEADS TO MORE WOMEN AT THE TOP
It is not in Nordic welfare states that we find most women on top, but rather in the free-market systems that exist in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and other Anglo-Saxon economies. The only Nordic country which has relatively many women on top is Iceland, which is the country in the region which has the smallest welfare state. Evidently, something in the Nordic welfare state is holding women back when compared to the more market based American model.

QUICK FACT 4 – NORWAY’S GENDER QUOTAS HAVE BEEN ANYTHING BUT A SUCCESS
Norway’s gender quotas are admired by many abroad. Yet, researchers have shown that they have been anything but a success. As quotas were introduced, the management of firms deteriorated. The reason is that less experienced people were put on boards. More importantly, the quotas have not been able to have any broader effect on the gender gap in wages. They have merely benefited a small group of elite women who have been given board positions due to the quotas. According to the Nordic Labour Journal Norway had no female CEO:s in its 60 largest firms, even though 8 years had passed since the quotas had been introduced. The Nordic need market reforms, not government mandates, to boost women’s careers.

QUICK FACT 5 – LARGE WELFARE STATES ARE (UN)INTENTIONALLY HOLDING WOMEN BACK
It can seem as a paradox why Nordic societies – which are the most gender equal in the world in many regards – have few women on top of the business world. As this book shows, research literature points to a simple reason for this apparent paradox: the welfare state is unintentionally holding women back. Public sector monopolies, high tax wedges and welfare state policies such as generous parental leave are limiting women’s opportunities on the marketplace, and encouraging them to work few hours. Privatizations and tax reductions on the other hand have boosted women’s progress in the Nordics.

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2 Responses to The Nordic Gender Paradox

  1. Paul Murray says:

    I don’t understand “holding women back”. From what?

    Lets say you have two life choices: work 12 hours a day down mill for tuppnce a month, or win the lottery. Would we say that the lottery option “holds you back” from working for a living?

    The only holding back going on is the holding back of “women” where “women” in this context means an aggregate statistic, judged by money and status at paid employment. Individual women make the choice over and over to live differently.

    In other words: this whole non-issue is a matter of a bad metric being chosen.

    • Excellent insight, Paul: “Would we say that the lottery option “holds you back” from working for a living?”

      Yes, you can’t say a choice freely made without duress is holding one back.

      Thanks for bringing this to readers’ attention.

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