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The family-friendly policies introduced by Nordic countries over the past 50 years and associated increases in female employment have boosted growth in GDP per capita by between 10% and 20%, according to a new OECD report.
The report Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries analyses the impact of policies introduced by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden to ensure both women and men can participate fully in the labour market.
It finds that current GDP per capita in the region would be lower by between US$1,500 in Finland and $9,000 in Norway if female employment rates had remained at levels of the mid-1960s. Gains in Finland were smallest as many women were already in paid work at that time.
Over the past decades, the Nordic countries have increasingly invested in subsidised childcare, care for the elderly and paid parental leave for both mothers and fathers. Employers and unions have also made it possible for workers to opt for more flexible and family-friendly working hours.
The report says this package of measures has helped reduce gender gaps in employment so they are now the smallest in the OECD, at about 4 percentage points compared to the OECD average of 12 percentage points. Mothers are more likely to be in full-time jobs than elsewhere, and couples tend to share paid and unpaid work more equally than in most other OECD countries.
“Gender equality is both a fundamental human right and a key driver of inclusive growth,” said OECD Secretary-General Ángel Gurría. “Nordic countries have moved further along the path to gender equality than most other OECD countries. Closing the remaining gaps would drive further economic and social benefits, but will require a renewed commitment.”
“The Nordic countries have chosen different paths, but have had the common goal of giving women and men equal opportunities in working life,” said Annika Strandhäll, Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Sweden, and chair of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Health and Social Affairs. “Several surveys show that the Nordic region is the world’s most gender equal region, and this report shows the great social benefits that go with an effective gender equality policy.”
However, the report notes that gender inequalities persist. The female share of managers range from 27% in Denmark to 39% in Sweden and gender pay gaps range from 6% in Denmark to 18% in Finland for full-time employees at the median. The OECD average is 14%.
Cutting the gender gap in labour participation rates and working hours by 2040 could help boost future GDP per capita growth rates in the Nordic countries by as much as 15 -30%.