Nordic societies seem to have it all: a historic tradition of women’s entrepreneurship, modern welfare states that provide support to working parents, outstanding levels of women’s participation in the labour market and populations that strongly support the idea of gender equality. It therefore comes as a surprise that Nordic countries, in one international ranking after another, are shown to have few women among top-managers and business owners. Another surprise is that the three Baltic countries, which have more conservative societies and a more small-government approach than their Nordic neighbors, have more women managers, top executives and business owners.
In this book, Dr. Nima Sanandaji shows that the apparent paradox has a simple answer: Nordic welfare states are – unintentionally – holding women back. Public sector monopolies and substantial tax wedges limit women’s progress in the labour market. Overly generous parental leave systems encourage women to stay home rather than work. Welfare state safety nets discourage women from self-employment. On the other hand, the much-avowed affirmative action laws in Norway have not helped further women’s career possibilities.
Nordic gender egalitarianism, rooted in the Viking era, deserves to be admired by the rest of the world. However, it needs to be combined with a more free-market approach to truly blossom in the 21st century. Perhaps also in this regard the Nordics can teach the rest of the world valuable lessons about gender equality
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The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox. That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji. The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers. In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics. More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions. Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.
"The Israeli public, and especially its policymakers, could learn much from Sanandaji’s analysis of the Nordic model. The main lesson is that further liberalization and smaller government is the most fruitful approach for social and economic progress in the 21st century, without exception."
"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."
"Many countries have pursued policies to promote opportunities for women by providing state-subsidised child care and through other interventions. Interestingly, this book shows that promoting a more free economy, does in fact, lead to more opportunities for those women who choose a career. It should be read by all those who wish to promote the cause of women."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.