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Nordic 'Glass Ceiling' Shows How Gender Equity Suffers From Government Overreach

"The rise of the Nordic welfare state has been a double-edged sword" for women's professional progress.

Kyle Monk Blend Images/NewscomKyle Monk Blend Images/NewscomNordic countries beat the United States at a host of measures related to gender equality. But while this is widely believed to be an effect of their social welfare policies, ample data suggest that women in these countries thrive in spite of heavy-handed government policies, not because of them.

"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," writes Nima Sanandaji in the intro to a new look at the "glass ceiling" in Nordic countries.

In analyzing the effects of corporate gender quotas and other popular Nordic policies, Sanandaji—a Kurdish-Swedish policy analyst and the president of the European Centre for Entrepreneurship and Policy Reform—observes what a good deal of recent scholarship has been showing: that "the rise of the Nordic welfare state has been a double-edged sword" for feminism, "creating some benefits for women's careers, but also creating barriers to women's professional progress."

Nordic countries can trace some of their workforce quirks to their large public sector, which "has been both positive and negative for women," writes Sanandaji:

WHO Global Gender Gap Index Data/ENBWHO Global Gender Gap Index Data/ENBIt played an important historical role in women's entry into the labor market because many women entered through the expanding public sector. Public-sector services also facilitated the combination of work and the fulfilment of family responsibilities. The expansion of the public sector partly explains why Nordic nations reached a high employment rate among women earlier than other Western countries and stayed that way. The provision of public daycare was particularly important in this regard.

But labor-force participation is only one measure of female professional success. Another measure is female business ownership. Anita Lignell Du Rietz studied women's business ownership in Sweden and found that many businesses, including taverns, tailor shops, breweries, and stores were run by women entrepreneurs during the 19th century. Over time, women dominated businesses such as schools and pharmacies.

However, government monopolies crowded out private enterprise as the Swedish welfare state grew during the 20th century. Meanwhile, male-dominated sectors, including manufacturing, mining, and forestry, remained under private control. The transition toward welfare-state monopolies meant that women's business ownership suffered.

Government monopolies have combined with a strong influence of union wage-setting to undermine incentives for work: wages in the female-dominated public sectors in Nordic countries are flat, and rise based on seniority rather than achievement. Although there are public-sector managerial positions, the opportunities for individualized careers and business ownership are comparatively limited.

International Labour Organization data from 2015International Labour Organization data from 2015Women in Nordic countries are less likely to hold management positions as their U.S. counterparts, according to data from the International Labour Organization, from 15 percent less in Denmark to three percent less in Iceland.

Sanandaji finds that high taxes, mandated paid-leave policies, and the high cost of paid services also impede Nordic women's professional advancement. Overall, he concludes, "Nordic public-sector monopolies, tax policies, and welfare and family policies, along with ineffective gender quotas, combine to create the Nordic glass ceiling." (Read the whole paper here.)

In a recent Bloomberg column, Megan McArdle pinpointed another factor that taxes women in certain Nordic countries (who still, like their American counterparts, wind up doing an uneven share of domestic labor and child care): "High Danish wages translate into sky-high costs, especially for services. At a McDonald's in downtown Copenhagen, a Big Mac meal set me back more than $10."

McArdle came away from her trip to Denmark noting that Danes' complaints about their countries are generally, "on the scale of things, reasonably minor problems. They can be fixed. Moreover, there's some chance that they will be fixed because Denmark's political culture is remarkably effective at tackling problems that have stymied the rest of the world." But we can't import their policy and wind up with the same sense of well-being, suggests McArdle, because much of this comes from Danish social cohesion and "a consensus-based culture founded on trust."

Again, there are good and bad sides to this. While "Danish social cohesion works great for Danes," it's not so great for absorbing outsiders:

In the U.S., the unemployment rate of foreign-born workers is almost a percentage point lower than that of native-born citizens. In Denmark, it's almost 6 percentage points higher, more than double the native-born rate. And many first-generation immigrants also seem to be having difficulty integrating themselves into the Danish economy.

A combination of factors—including discrimination but also a fetishization of training and education—make it hard for immigrants to get ahead in the Danish economy. As with policies to encourage gender parity, Nordic-style heavyhandedness in employment (and sex) can come with unintended consequences that hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

Photo Credit: Kyle Monk Blend Images/Newscom

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  • ||

    Again, there are good and bad sides to this. While "Danish social cohesion works great for Danes," it's not so great for absorbing outsiders:

    In the U.S., the unemployment rate of foreign-born workers is almost a percentage point lower than that of native-born citizens. In Denmark, it's almost 6 percentage points higher, more than double the native-born rate. And many first-generation immigrants also seem to be having difficulty integrating themselves into the Danish economy.

    A rather unequivocal admission from Reason that not only is US immigration not terrible relative to other countries but that open borders, social equality, and economic equality might not be universally mutually compatible around the globe? Lemme find my... fainting... cou... *thump*.

  • JoeBlow123||

    haha good catch.

    But the Statue of Liberty!!!! Nation of Immigrants!!!! Rabble rabble!

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Does that "unemployment rate of foreign-born workers" include the undocumented workers, who may be working for less than market wages?

  • Devastator||

    Haha I'm guessing there are a few groups of immigrants that wish they were within 1% of the average employment rate of regular citizens here in the states.

  • JeremyR||

    Iceland has 350,000 people. It should never be used as an example country.

  • Arizona_Guy||

    so there is ~50 cities in the US with more people than the entire country of Iceland.

    And all of Scandinavia has fewer people than Texas.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Jesus, I didn't realize it was that low. Yuma in the Winter has over 200,000 even.

  • Jerryskids||

    I also suspect there's less sex discrimination in Nordic countries because it's harder to discriminate against a family member, and in Nordic countries everybody's probably your cousin.

  • ||

    Less racial discrimination for, well, essentially the same reason.

  • DiegoF||

    Those Icelanders are going to end up with some very sexy autosomal disorders if they keep this up. Hopefully if they ever ease up their isolation to expand the gene pool they do it right. Admit some refugees from whatever tribe Lupita Nyong-O is from, see what that looks like.

  • DiegoF||

    Also, find out Linda Sarsour's tribe and tell the EU to institute a continent wide embargo just for safekeeping. You can never be too careful when the stakes are this high.

  • Citizen X - #6||

  • zazoo||

    'If they keep this up' ?

    They've been keeping it up for centuries. If you take a trip there you will find they don't look very inbred at all.

  • Chumby||

    So Trump should nix the wall idea and make America an island?

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Annex everything north of the Panama Canal and call it an island?

  • JWatts||

    MNAGA!

  • Rhywun||

    I honestly don't understand why I'm supposed to care about the percentage of females working or owning businesses. Just pick something and be good at it, but let's not pretend "you can have it all" or that the explosion of do-nothing government jobs is anything worth celebrating.

  • Arizona_Guy||

    I feel the same way when someone points out "first XYZ for a female director."

    Why would I care? For the most part, people don't go see a movie because of who the director is, much less the director's gender.

  • Rhywun||

    *flashes male-privilege gang symbol*

  • Citizen X - #6||

    The male privilege gang symbol is unzipping your fly and dangling ya nutz.

  • Rhywun||

    I left myself wide open for that.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    "Psst. Hey, did i sit in gum?"

  • Agnes||

    As a woman in corporate America management, one thing I've noticed, that no one seems to take into consideration, is that a TON of women don't want to be in management. Most are moms and they don't want the stress. They've flat out told me, I don't want to be a manager. I don't want that responsibility. They want to come in at 8 and leave at 5 and have a job flexible enough so they can leave if their kid gets sick, which is completely understandable.

  • SimpleRules||

    Absolutely agree. I have offered supervisory roles to two women working for me in the IT field - no takers. Don't want the grief. To be fair, I also have a guy in the same boat.

  • VinniUSMC||

    As a guy who has been a supervisor two times now, I immediately, and unequivocally, turned down an offer to take a management role in my current company. Not because of the company, but because I just don't want the hassle. I'd rather just do the work. Managing people sucks.

  • Stevecsd||

    I have had a 30 year career in software development and business analysis. I have always avoided the management side. I was an I.S. manager for a small company for 9 years. For a few years I supervised a web designer and a hardware tech person. Both of them worked out very well. But I didn't want to do supervising/management beyond that. And I have worked for/with many capable and good managers who could deal with the job. And more power to them. Several of them were women.

  • Mongo||

    Due to announcer outrage, the Nordic Glass Ceiling was a wrestling move banned by the AWA and WWE.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    (who still, like their American counterparts, wind up doing an uneven share of domestic labor and child care)

    (Wind up doing or choose to do?)

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Women only complain about having to do all the housework so that they can yell at men for doing it wrong when they try to help. Trust me, I have more than 20 years experience on this topic.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    On a related note, i am Not Allowed to do the laundry at my house anymore.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I applaud you for your strategic incompetence. I was never very good at that.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Hand to God, it wasn't intentional.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    So you're just incompetent incompetent? You married well.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Not even incompetent, just not quite right. Oh well!

  • DiegoF||

    What do you have, a washboard or something? How do you fuck up machine washing?

    We actually had a washboard for much of my childhood (not old; it's just how it was), so when I went off to college and heard some girls complaining they didn't know how to do laundry I actually thought they were too broke to afford the machines and were struggling with doing some of the smaller tasks in the sink to save cash, so I went over to give them some tips. Nope! Still can't believe that shit. I think you fucked up on purpose but Mrs. X is a H too. Probably Tony.

  • DiegoF||

    *H&R er. Damn HTML. (Though if Mrs. X is a character in H genre manga, I wouldn't be surprised either.)

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'd been doing my own laundry since i was ten or so, but when i got married, it turned out there are a whole bunch of female-affiliated fabric types that look like normal cloth but then explode or something when you wash them with anything else. APPARENTLY.

  • DiegoF||

    Ahhhh. Forgot absolutely everything is more complicated for females. May be the single central rule of life if there is one. I should never have been so smug. I owe some beckys a heartfelt mental apology.

  • Leader Desslok||

    Dude this is so true. My wife yells at me for not sorting laundry in to more than two piles, you know dirty pile or clean pile.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    We had a washboard, a hand pump, and an honest to god wringer. The whole 'tit in a wringer' saying was never much of a mystery to anyone who grew up in my family. Not coincidentally, Mom was the one who taught us all the juiciest of curses...

  • I'm Here, for MOAR Hihn||

    I remember playing that "just the tip" game in college

  • Bubba Jones||

    I did the laundry for years. But once we had kids, I was suddenly doing it wrong. Apparently each shade of pink is a different load.

  • ||

    Funny, that's how it worked out for us as well. Years of never bleeding colors or shrinking anything when it was just me/us. Now with kids, stuff comes out smaller and the wrong color with intermittent frequency and we just keep it to ourselves because we're not doing the laundry.

  • ||

    Which things needed to be line dried seemed to change on a weekly basis. I gave up.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    I am not allowed to do the dishes (the stuff that doesn't go in the dishwasher.) I'm crestfallen. (I assume "crestfallen" means "elated".)

  • ||

    Women only complain about having to do all the housework so that they can yell at men for doing it wrong when they try to help. Trust me, I have more than 20 years experience on this topic.

    My favorite is the 'use a plate/don't leave your dishes out/don't leave your dishes in the sink/who taught you how to load a dishwasher' conundrum.

    When unloading the dishwasher, I always lift the silverware tray out of the dishwasher and carry it over to the silverware drawer rather than ham-fisting things or making several trips (it's even got a handle). The first time our 4-yr.-old offered to help unload the dishwasher, that's the first thing he did. She asked him if it was too heavy and he said he was strong, like Dad. From the look on her face, you'd have thought I taught the kid to pee on the toilet seat or something.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Why would you teach him how to pee on a seat? I have 2 boys, they fall out of bed knowing how to pee on the seat (and the floor). They dont need help with that.

  • DarrenM||

    Women only complain about having to do all the housework so that they can yell at men for doing it wrong when they try to help.

    I thought it was just me.

  • Chumby||

    Do the Nordic women mow the la...remove the snow, fix the leaking pipe, jump start the car when it is -20 (deg C or F), change the flat tire, assemble the new Ikea table, process the firewood for next winter, etc.?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    "High Danish wages translate into sky-high costs, especially for services. At a McDonald's in downtown Copenhagen, a Big Mac meal set me back more than $10."

    Then skip the danish next time, dummy.

  • Rhywun||

    I wonder if those high wages translate into McDonald's workers that don't look like they would rather be doing anything else besides serving you.

  • DiegoF||

    I hope Fight for Fifteen delivers appropriately blase, error-prone, and dead-eyed robots and is careful to throw in that one with Downs Syndrome at the very least. Progress is progress, but a brand has to have some respect for its core identity.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    No, because everything is stupid expensive in Scandinavia. Not only are they in the edge of the liveable world, but they're taxed to shit. So yes, their wages are much higher than in the US, but their living expenses nullify that, and then some.

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    They're really not that much cheaper in the US, either. There's probably a $3-4 dollar difference, which relatively speaking isn't that big of a deal anymore. I suspect the push by fast food restaurants to offer cheaper dollar menus and small-portion meal options (Hardee's/Carl's Jr.'s $5 box meals, for example) has a lot to do with how much their "value meals" cost these days.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Yeah, what's 30 or 40 percent? That's no big deal at all.

  • Chumby||

    If you like your $6 Big Mac meal you can keep your $6 Big Mac meal.

  • BYODB||


    In a recent Bloomberg column, Megan McArdle pinpointed another factor that taxes women in certain Nordic countries (who still, like their American counterparts, wind up doing an uneven share of domestic labor and child care):


    Look, for the last time ladies if you're the one setting the metric for what you think must be done for a kid that is higher than what a guy thinks must be done you're engaging in mental masturbation to claim you're doing 'more'. It is true you're doing 'more' but the reason why you're doing 'more' is because your baseline for what 'must' be done is way higher than men feel is necessary.


    Got that? Good.


    It's like saying that women wind up doing an uneven share of car maintence. Yeah, duh McFly. Most women are going to take the vehicle to a shop. Most men will to, but more men feel like a higher level of care from them personally is required. Do they then fault their wife when they fail to do the same? Unlikely, unless she does something insane like empty the oil and drive to work.

  • Bubba Jones||

    I just wish my wife would mention it when the check engine light is on.

  • BYODB||

    This is something I consider to be in the 'something insane' category since if you're driving a vehicle you should know simple things like 'if this light turns on, it means my vehicle might die a horrible heat death and cost me thousands of dollars.'

    Frankly, that's about my level of knowledge when it comes to vehicles so it's not unreasonable to expect your average woman to know this as well. I mean, it's in the instruction manual for every vehicle. Did she not read the instructions?! ^_-

  • ||

    Most women are going to take the vehicle to a shop.

    My favorite is with home repair where they'll just call 'a guy' in to fix things. The level of abstract, elitist, and abject objectification that just *expects* there to be 'a guy' to fix... things is astounding. Especially when juxtaposed with the objectification of women (in porn). A conceptual genderless magic wand that just appears to fix any. fucking. thing. that can be broken no matter how disgusting or terrible is completely sensible, but the form or appearance of a woman to meet a narrow need that women specifically do fill? Objectification.

  • BYODB||

    True enough, and it's extra amusing since this is actually one of the direct causes of the so-called 'gender wage gap'. For some reason, women aren't as interested in talking about the workplace morality gap. ^_-

  • BYODB||

    *sigh* Workplace Mortality Gap. Obviously the morality gap is something people won't shut up about.

  • DarrenM||

    My wife is continually astonished when I fix something around the house. I don't know if that says more about her or more about me.

  • I'm Here, for MOAR Hihn||

    Same - my folks built a house when I was 15-16. That 18 months of manual labor and no social life was the best education in my life. It's given me countless opportunities to have my wife tell me: you were right.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    ENB, now that you posted this article, I'm going to refer to you as The Controversial Elizabeth Nolan Brown. You've earned it.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Kurdish-Swedish

    No such thing. That's just a Kurd who happens to live in Sweden.

    RE: house work

    I have trouble cleaning up the house because essentially all the clutter is shit that belongs to the wife and kids that should be thrown away.

    Surprisingly, I am not authorized to do so.

  • DiegoF||

    No, Sweden, being a civilized country, is a state of all its citizens. They have no particular moral obligation to admit anyone to their citizenship; but once they do, that person and their descendants do not become merely "an X who lives in Sweden" just because they are not members of the core ethnicity, as though they were some sort of guests--a perpetual alien presence whose only real membership is with their tribe of blood, with only the distinction of residency deigned to be granted to them. (What would you call Ms. Sanandaji, anyway, if she carried her Swedish passport to a teaching position at Harvard?)

    "Swedish" is an ethnic ancestry, but it is one with a diplomatically recognized associate sovereign entity as well--therefore the adjective can now be used in context to refer to either the ethnicity or the citizenship. Just as there are Kurdish Iraqis, Kurdish Americans, Kurdish Knights of Malta, so are there Kurdish Swedes if HM of Sweden decides to grant such persons passports. The fact that "Swedish," unlike the rest, also refers to an ancestral ethnicity does not affect that fact.

  • DiegoF||

    That sounded a little hostile in tone, sorry. Not intended.

  • Mark22||

    No, Sweden, being a civilized country, is a state of all its citizens. ,,, the adjective can now be used in context to refer to either the ethnicity or the citizenship

    Swedes used to be brutal mass murderers and rapists until they achieved the degree of religious, cultural, and ethnic purity they desired.

    I wouldn't count on them not going down that path again if they feel threatened. It's no accident that right wing extremism is so common in the Nordic countries.

  • Muzzled Woodchipper||

    Right wing groups are common in Nordic countries because the vast majority of those living in the Nordic countries are soy milk drinking socialists. They lived on the edge of the Soviet Union and some of them know just exactly how fucked up the commie way is.

  • Mark22||

    They lived on the edge of the Soviet Union and some of them know just exactly how fucked up the commie way is.

    I suppose fascists and neo-Nazis are nominally anti-communist, but they are largely the same ideologically and behaviorally.

  • DarrenM||

    Is there anyone who didn't used to be brutal mass murderers and rapists? I mean anyone who did not get wiped out by others who were brutal mass murderers and rapists. That seems to have been a requirement just to survive. It's just that some were better at it than others.

  • CE||

    If I'm a Swedish employer, what moral right do the other Swedes have in stopping me from hiring a foreigner?
    If I'm a Swedish landlord, what moral right do the other Swedes have in stopping me from renting a room or a house to a foreigner?

  • Red Rocks White Privilege||

    I have trouble cleaning up the house because essentially all the clutter is shit that belongs to the wife and kids that should be thrown away.

    Are you my doppelganger?

  • Peter Schaeffer||

    Mr. Jones, I somewhat indirectly know the folks involved in this article. I can assure you that in this case, Kurdish-Swedish is accurate. Nima Sanandaji came to Sweden as a child, learned to speak fluent Swedish and knows Sweden rather well. It is tragically true, that many immigrants to Sweden are living in ghettos with local contact limited to welfare checks and crime. Quote from Wikipedia.

    "Sanandaji has conducted research in structural biochemistry at Cambridge University and has a degree in biotechnology from Chalmers University of Technology. He has a Ph.D. from the Royal Institute of Technology in polymer engineering. Sanandaji has previously been chairman of the Free Moderate Student League and the Swedish-American Association, both based in Gothenburg."

    His brother, Tino Sanadaji has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Stumbled across this during a google.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new.....s-suggest/

    London is now more crime ridden and dangerous than New York City, with rape, robbery and violent offences far higher on this side of the Atlantic.

    The latest statistics, published earlier this week, revealed that crime across the UK was up by 13 per cent, with a surge in violence in the capital blamed for much of the increase.

  • Rhywun||

    I see they're deliberately ignoring demographic trends just like NYC's intelligentsia.

  • DiegoF||

    Don't make me cut yo ass, pendejo.

  • DiegoF||

    Don't forget anti-Semitic incidents. Hmmmm...

    I'm not kidding with the "Hmmm..." You want to see something really entertaining--this fact is then wielded against UKIP (because UKIP are Nazis, of course). I am not fucking joking. Google through the "mainstream" opinions pronounced on them by various factions of the respectable elite.

  • DarrenM||

    London is now more crime ridden and dangerous than New York City,

    Well, obviously, NYC has to work harder on this.

  • Sigivald||

    I think that graphic's caption might better as "% of managers who are women".

    Because I don't think 43% of American women are employed as managers, eh?

  • gormadoc||

    It's a typo; it should be "naggers."

  • gormadoc||

    Or "man-naggers," to be precise.

  • DarrenM||

    That's racist.

  • CE||

    Yeah, that's what I thought -- who's doing the work?

  • MaleMatters||

    Re: "who still, like their American counterparts, wind up doing an uneven share of domestic labor and child care"

    No one does anything without a pay-off, real or imagined, immediate or delayed.

    "Two quick lessons on 'power' in male-female relationships: What ideological feminists do not want women to know"
    https://malemattersusa.wordpress.com/
    2012/04/28/a-quick-lesson-on-power
    -in-male-female-relationships
    -what-feminists-do-not-want-women-to-know/

  • Peter Schaeffer||

    The higher immigrant unemployment rate in Denmark is not a consequence (primarily) of the Danish welfare state. The key difference is that Denmark gets "refugees" (most of whom are not refugees at all) who go on welfare immediately. By contrast, the U.S. attracts cheap labor workers (who take American jobs). Of course, these differences show up in the employment statistics.

    My comments are an oversimplification of a more complicated issue. Not everyone comes to the U.S. to work and even many foreign workers (in the US) are massively welfare dependent. Conversely, not everyone who ends up in Denmark lives off the dole. However, directionally there is some truth to it.

    It should also be noted that the situation is vastly worse in Sweden than in Denmark. in Denmark, the standard comment is "we don't want to end up like Sweden". They (the Danes) are right. Sweden is a mess.

    See "Sweden's ugly immigration problem" for a good article on the subject. Tino Sanandaji is quoted extensively in the article. He is the brother of Nima Sanandaji.

  • Mark22||

    that "the rise of the Nordic welfare state has been a double-edged sword" for feminism, "creating some benefits for women's careers, but also creating barriers to women's professional progress."

    You're assuming that the gender differences are due to "barriers". In fact, it's the opposite: given a free choice without economic pressures, women actually choose not to become managers or competitive workers.

  • Cloudbuster||

    Getting high in the "gender gap" rankings involves a lot of cultural trade-offs that many might feel not worth it, such as the utter destruction of the Icelandic traditional family.

  • funnyjokes||

    Thanks for your sharing. Hope you can contribute more quality posts to this page. Thank you!
    flip diving

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