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May, 2018

Hard data on the value of gender equality

It is quite commonplace in international debates for Nordic speakers to claim that “equal rights for women and men boost the economy and improve prosperity". On some occasions the claim is met with sympathy and interest, on others, it is passed off as utopian or self-righteousness.

Dagfinn Høybråten til UNGA72
Photographer
Anna Rosenberg

Right now, there is widespread interest in taking an in-depth look at the claim, at least in part because many other countries are grappling with the problems associated with ageing and shrinking populations, including the risk of economic growth grinding to a halt. Women are needed in the labour market.

The new OECD report Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries” could not be more opportune. It states clearly that gender equality policy has been a key driver of economic growth in the Nordic Region over the last 40–50 years.

Subsidised childcare for all and generous schemes for paid parental leave that include guaranteed job security have had a major and direct impact on employment rates for women in the Nordic countries.

In Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland, the higher number of women in work over the last 40–50 years has accounted for 10–20% of the increase in per capita growth, according to the OECD report, which was drawn up on behalf of the Nordic Council of Ministers.
The most striking feature, according to the OECD, is that the Nordic countries have managed to maintain or improve on rates of employment that were already high in the 1970s.

In 2016, 72% of women in the Region were in work, well above the OECD average of 59.4%.

When I became the father of twins a little more than three decades ago, mothers had the right to 12 weeks of parental leave in Norway. Fathers had no such rights. The system of childcare was not yet fully developed.
As a couple, we made a decision that was a little unusual at the time, and my wife returned to work quickly, while I took responsibility for the home and children.

The last mile may be the longest, the OECD writes, but if the Nordic countries close the remaining gap between women and men in the world of work, the boost to annual per capita growth would be 15–30%, depending on the country. 

The experience helped cement my commitment to gender equality, and I am proud to have played my part in the development of the parental leave system in Norway, a system that encourages fathers to take their share of responsibility for parenthood.
In some of the Nordic countries, earmarking part of parental leave for fathers is a demand driven by business. The reasoning goes that only when intransigent patterns are broken, and men are in a position to assume their fair share of responsibility for the home and children, does it become possible for the most competent women to rise to the top in business.

The argument shows that gender equality – which is a fundamental human right and valuable per se – is also crucial to competitiveness and growth.

The last mile may be the longest, the OECD writes, but if the Nordic countries close the remaining gap between women and men in the world of work, the boost to annual per capita growth would be 15–30%, depending on the country.
What makes the OECD report so useful is that it adds scientific weight to the economic arguments in favour of gender equality. It is now safe to say “gender equality, it's not only the right thing to do but also the smart thing to do” – and confidently cite hard facts and figures to back up the assertion. There is nothing utopian about it.

 Downoad the report: 

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