Governments interested in generating much more economic growth need to get more women into the workforce.
The proof lies in the Nordic countries. The region has grown a lot richer thanks to decades of policies designed to improve gender equality, according to a report published this week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“The Nordic countries are an inspiration,” Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD, said in prepared comments. He pointed to structures designed to support families as being key.
The region, which coincidentally also tends to top world happiness indexes, has spent the past 50 years bringing more women into the workforce in a shift that has added as much as 20 percent to economic growth per capita, the OECD estimates. The Paris-based organization says continued progress on gender equality in the labor market could add another 30 percent to economic growth rates by 2040.
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Gurria pointed to what he called the region’s “continuum of support to families with children” as key. This includes “generous paid leave for new parents; subsidized and high-quality early childhood education and care; and out-of-school-hours care.”
Female employment rates in the Nordic region range from 68 percent to 83 percent, according to the study. That compares with an OECD average of 59 percent. Higher Nordic employment rates follow official steps in the region to punish discrimination. For example, it’s illegal to fire women after they have children.
Henriette Laursen, head of the Danish Centre for Research and Information on Gender, Equality and Diversity, says government subsidies for child and elderly care are essential for making the services affordable for all families.
“The main issues here are not only the possibility of having your children and elderly cared for, but also the prices for that,” Laursen said. “In the U.K., for instance, you have good child care but people can’t earn enough to pay for it, so only the better-off families use it.”
“I see no reason why other countries shouldn’t be able to copy” the Nordic model, Laursen said. “Aside from political reasons.”