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The Nordic Glass Ceiling




The welfare state holds women back. Women in the United States are more likely to make it to the top in their fields than are women in the Nordic countries, despite the latter’s reputation for gender equality. Nima Sanandaji writes:

The Nordic countries are in many ways the most gender-equal in the world, owing to their history, culture, and some beneficial policies. Therefore, foreign observers assume replicating Nordic policies is the key to women’s progress, even when facts and research tell us the opposite.

Welfare policies, high taxes that make it costly to purchase substitutable services, generous benefit systems that reduce economic incentives for full-time work, public-sector monopolies/oligopolies in female-dominated sectors, and paid-leave policies that incentivize long breaks from working life prevent women from reaching the top. Taken together, these policies create a Nordic glass ceiling. Gender quotas are unable to make up the difference, even though politicians routinely point to gender quotas as a policy success story. In reality they fall short of their objectives.

It is true that Nordic countries have high female employment rates and an unusually gender-equal history and gender-equal values, and these achievements merit admiration. Still, the proportion of women managers, executives, and business owners is disappointingly low. Several other countries that lack the advantages of the Nordics, but have more small-government and market-oriented policies, have a larger proportion of women who reach the top. This is true of the United States.

[Nima Sanandaji, “The Nordic Glass Ceiling,” Cato Institute, March 8]


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