Don’t emulate the ‘Nordic glass ceiling’

Nima Sanandaji of the Cato Institute urges caution for those who believe the United States should follow Nordic countries’ lead when it comes to gender-equity programs.

A common view is that Nordic gender equality reflects the social welfare policies of these nations. Indeed, Nordic governments advertise their welfare systems as a recipe for gender equality and even promote these policies in the United States for that reason. Several other European countries have followed in Norway’s tracks by legislating gender quotas for board of director positions in publicly traded firms. Although the political climate in the United States is not ripe for quotas, that policy does lie on the horizon.

This analysis argues that gender quotas have been ineffective and that several aspects of Nordic social policies have negatively affected women’s career progress and even contributed to a glass ceiling. The glass ceiling is a metaphor for the barriers women face in reaching leadership positions.

While Nordic societies are indeed role models when it comes to gender equality, this equality stretches back centuries before the modern welfare state and reflects traditional Nordic culture. …

… The rise of the Nordic welfare state has been a double-edged sword: creating some benefits for women’s careers, but also creating barriers to women’s professional progress. For example, benefits include various public systems that encourage a combination of family and work, such as public daycare and parental leave benefits.

But barriers abound. Public monopolies in health care, child care, and elderly care reduce development of these women-intensive parts of the labor market. High taxes and welfare policies encourage women to work fewer hours, and generous parental leave systems influence women to stay home, all of which reduce their ability to climb the career ladder.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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