Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Posts Tagged ‘Iceland

Human development and paternity leave

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Marginal Revolution pointed me towards this lengthy Guardian feature on Iceland, which has topped the UNDP’s Human Development Index ranking.

Iceland’s economy defies the conventional wisdom – they maintain a generous social welfare state with relatively low tax rates and only 1 per cent unemployment. It probably doesn’t hurt that Iceland has no armed forces. (This is a good reminder of how much of the world’s resources go into defences, and how much surplus we have to gain from building a stable and peaceful international system…)

This tiny arctic country is also a bit of a riddle when it comes to women’s rights. Iceland has the highest birth rate in Europe, and the highest divorce rate, and it is apparently not uncommon for women to have their first child at 21 or 22, while still in university. None of these things would seem to lead to women’s empowerment, but Icelandic women work outside the home in higher rates than anywhere else in the world, including in positions of influence.

Part of this might stem from Iceland’s unique Viking background, Carlin suggests. While the men went abroad to pillage and conquer, women were left in charge. That’s interesting, but not something that, say, Canadian women can put into practice. I’m often discouraged by how few of these success stories seem replicable. There is one lesson here, though, about the importance of universal child care and paternity leave:

…if you are in a job the state gives you nine months on fully paid child leave, to be split among the mother and the father as they so please. ‘This means that employers know a man they hire is just as likely as a woman to take time off to look after a baby,’ explained Svafa Gr√∂nfeldt, currently rector of Reykjavik University, previously a very high-powered executive. ‘Paternity leave is the thing that made the difference for women’s equality in this country.’

Of course, paternity leave can’t have this effect unless large numbers of men take advantage of it. But creating that option is a first step.

Written by Allison

21 May 2008 at 11:56 am