*The Nordic Gender Equality Paradox*

by on May 11, 2016 at 7:06 am in Books, Economics, Law | Permalink

That is the new and quite interesting book by Nima Sanandaji.  The main point is that there are plenty of Nordic women in politics, or on company boards, but few CEOs or senior managers.  In fact the OECD country with the highest share of women as senior managers is the United States, coming in at 43 percent compared to 31 percent in the Nordics.  More generally, countries with more equal gender norms do not have a higher share of women in senior management positions.  Within Europe, Bulgaria does best and other than Cyprus, Denmark and Sweden do the worst in this regard.

One reason for the poor Nordic performance at higher corporate levels is high taxes, which limits the amount of household services supplied through markets.  If it is harder to hire someone to do the chores, that makes it harder for women to invest the time to climb the career ladder.  Generous maternity leave policies may encourage women to take off “too much” time, or at least this is suggested by the author.  A history of communism is also strongly correlated with women rising to the top in business and management; this may stem from a mix of relatively egalitarian customs and a more general mixing up of status relations in recent times and a turnover of elites.

I don’t find this book to be the final word, and I would have liked a more formal econometric treatment.  It is nonetheless a consistently interesting take which revises a lot of the stereotypes many people have about the Nordic countries as being so absolutely wonderful for gender egalitarianism in every regard.

Here is the book’s website, from Timbro (a very good group), I don’t yet see it on Amazon.

1 Niclas Berggren May 11, 2016 at 7:23 am

I also recommend a new working paper, “Equal Opportunity? Gender Gaps in CEO Appointments and Executive Pay”, which is on this topic: http://www.ifn.se/eng/publications/wp/2016/1111

2 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 7:41 am

The idea that preferences differ between demographics is anathema to the left because it implies that the distribution of wealth, income, and power, may be less unequal and there less in need of a patrician class of leftists to redistribute it. Ie no need for Chavinistas. Expect the usual leftist suspects to visit here and leave emotional responses, useful idiots as they are. Expect the ones with real hopes of being that administrative power class, like a certain JMU professor, to suggest that disbelief in correlation=causation, in [current year] to be the mark of the uncivilized.

3 ITT123 May 11, 2016 at 9:27 am

“The idea that preferences differ between demographics is anathema to the left”

No, it isn’t.

4 tjamesjones May 11, 2016 at 9:34 am

I can’t say I’ve noticed left wing commentary that says “ok so this demographic group has different outcomes to that demographic group, but a key causal explanation is preferences”. For the left, I’d say, different outcomes for different demographic groups is prima facie evidence of prejudice. I’d say Thomas has a point.

5 prior_test2 May 11, 2016 at 11:48 am

It is just stated in miserable terms, from the first sentence on.

6 Tommy May 16, 2016 at 3:42 am

Not an argument.

7 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 3:01 pm

It is sometimes discussed as psychopathy, sociopathy, narcissism and greed. But there are many shades of grey, most of which rather acceptable.

(FYI, you’re not exactly expressing a reasonable position yourself. Although I am aware that there exist similar opposites to the thinking you exhibit.)

8 Jan May 11, 2016 at 4:40 pm

I always chuckle when I see these kinds of comments that presume to not only understand the motives of their ideological opposites, but to assert they are completely bonkers.

I don’t agree with conservatives on many issues but what you say is the equivalent of me stating that conservatives view every dollar they earn as a dollar that a stupid poor person deserves to lose and that it is better for society in the long run for poor people to suffer and die out.

9 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Well, there are those too. They probably consider “strong leader” as one of the defining characteristics of Hitler, as opposed to “one of the worst monsters of history”.

10 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 10:36 pm

Jan, you are one of the emotional enablers, not the would-be rulers. There is no need for you to have bad intentions. Cheers.

11 dax May 12, 2016 at 5:26 am

“The idea that preferences differ between demographics is anathema to the left because it implies that the distribution of wealth, income, and power, may be less unequal and there less in need of a patrician class of leftists to redistribute it.”

No the idea doesn’t imply this. Preferences obviously differ between demographics, but this general claim entails nothing about the distribution of wealth, income or power. That’s obvious right? What were you trying to say? Except to whine about the left?

12 Rich Berger May 11, 2016 at 7:45 am

“A history of communism is also strongly correlated with women rising to the top in business and management; this may stem from a mix of relatively egalitarian customs and a more general mixing up of status relations in recent times and a turnover of elites”

Yeah, those communists had some great ideas.

13 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 3:05 pm

It was implementation and failure to understand important aspects of human nature that were the problem. A lot of the ideas are and were rather good, conditional on being tempered with additional realism.

Maybe in the post-scarcity society it will be worth revisiting some of them.

14 Thomas May 11, 2016 at 3:29 pm

Realism, like progressing past the clad in charge of the revolution, of which some leftists are ignorant and to which some aspire? You mean realism as in rge concept of human nature?

15 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 5:32 pm

That we like to share a bit, but that doesn’t mean we want to share everything. “Incentives matter”.

I do actually think it might be desirable to have some handful of folks on the extremes with a half an incling towards the potential for violent revolution, to serve as those who would orchestrate one, were political repression to be used by the respective opposite extreme to broadly enforce conformity in the economic left/right divide. And I’m pretty sure extremists on either side are perfectly aware of what blood is.

16 Jan May 11, 2016 at 4:17 pm

It is the blind buffoon who dismisses out of hand the idea that anything [insert undesirable group] did could have been positive because said group is [insert reason group is undesirable].

17 Peter Akuleyev May 11, 2016 at 5:34 pm

One explanation why women rose to the top in business in post-Communist societies is because women in Slavic and Asian societies are simply more responsible than men. When given an opportunity to screw around and not work, men will take it. Women will try to maintain some order. A further irony is that the stereotypically “female” drudge positions that women were forced to take under Communism – such as book-keeping, planning & organization, logistics – actually developed skills that were useful under Capitalism. Ambitious men in Communist societies learned to posture, make content free speeches, and become yes men to ingratiate themselves with higher ups. Not as useful.

18 Brian Donohue May 11, 2016 at 8:05 am

Huh. It’s almost as if these worker-friendly policies have unintended consequences, like incentives matter or something like that. This sort of thing could turn into an entire academic discipline.

19 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:12 pm

And do you think this was the case before worker friendly policies were put in place? I bet ya it was. So, how can we conclude the policies produced the result? See the breakdown in that logic?

20 Brian Donohue May 11, 2016 at 11:56 pm

Do I think what was the case, Jan?

21 Todd K May 11, 2016 at 8:09 am

Sweden, Finland, Denmark an Norway have/had 40% to 50% female quotas through the parties. (Denmark’s parties dropped quotas in 1996 after being used from 1977, 1983 and 1985.) Norway has had a 40% female quota for board of directors since 2008.

22 josh May 11, 2016 at 8:09 am

Considering that climbing the career ladder is the meaning of life, this is a serious, serious problem. Perhaps we could send them some of our Mexicans to raise their kids and mow their lawns.

23 anon May 11, 2016 at 8:30 am

They should increase Arab immigration to give more women a chance in the workplace, though it’s probably best for the women not to stay at work after dark…

24 Andrew M June 9, 2016 at 8:22 am

So, in a Norwegian winter, they shouldn’t go out for more than the two hours of daylight per day?

25 A Definite Beta Guy May 11, 2016 at 10:51 am

Lawn work entertains, builds character, and shows concrete results. Don’t understand why everyone outsources it to migrant labor.

26 IVV May 11, 2016 at 11:22 am

Because you know what else entertains and builds character? Landing the next contract.

27 A Definite Beta Guy May 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Not sure most people do that.

28 josh May 11, 2016 at 11:24 am

Like other unimportant activities (breeding for example), it interferes with climbing the career ladder, not to mention cutting into your time to try authentic ethnic foods.

29 anon May 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

I ate dried squid with my beer last night. Can’t say I recommend it too highly, but it was probably more healthy than crisps.

30 A Definite Beta Guy May 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm

I enjoy ethnic food, but the obsession with trendy restaurants strikes me as absurd. Steaming veggies with a bit of salt is a delicious meal that requires nothing more than a stovetop. Marinating chicken is cheap and amazing. Tossing $50 for a meal at a Tapas restaurant seems like a once-a-month treat, not something that should be indulged with any kind of regularity, and foregoing this is not any major QOL hit.

31 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:02 pm

I never appreciated the joyful silence of meaningful yard work so much until I had a kid. I’m probably a bad person.

32 Andrew M June 9, 2016 at 8:23 am

Ditto. Yet it seemed terribly dull unappealing before kids. Preferences change – who knew?

33 Chris Stucchio May 11, 2016 at 8:55 am

Somewhat relatedly, there is also a study showing that gender equality is negatively correlated with females getting into STEM.


34 Daniel Weber May 11, 2016 at 10:58 am

As women get richer, they spend more time not working outside the home.

35 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:05 pm

Isn’t that because STEM is basically one of the only professional pathways for women in unequal countries? Also because the men are incredibly lazy in those countries, due to lack of competition, so females tend to smoke them in the classroom, when they’re allowed in.

36 NPW May 11, 2016 at 9:03 am

It is possible that men are just better in these roles.

37 Captain Obvious May 11, 2016 at 9:28 am

Hillary, Thatcher, Merkel, Dilma…. Bush, Reagan, Lula, Cameron. It’s a tie, they are all terrible in their own way 😉

38 josh May 11, 2016 at 9:30 am

Or are more interested in getting these jobs, because women will find them more attractive.

39 Rossle May 11, 2016 at 9:22 am

Core question: To what extent is “leadership” a masculine quality? We know what the Chinese, Greek, Roman, Mesopotamian, Indus Valley, Japanese and Western European civilizations thought. Have the meanings of “leadership” and “masculinity” changed meaningfully such that the associations with these words (or their translations) no longer materially overlap? Have the meanings of “femininity” or its translations changed such that the word maps better to “leadership” than in the past?

Or is this under-represesentation pseudo-mystery just an extension/consequence of adopting the currently fashionable shibboleth that women aren’t generally feminine and men generally masculine? http://www.feministapparel.com/products/destroy-the-gender-norms-womens-t-shirt

40 prior_test2 May 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

‘and Western European civilizations thought’

Well, maybe not the UK, that splendid birthplace of liberty. Where Elizabeth set the path to imperial greatness, and Victoria made it a glistening crown jewel, of the most successful empire in history.

41 Horhe May 11, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Weren’t they the objects of inspiration for the men that did create the empire, as in going out and conquering, administering and so on?

42 Rossle May 11, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Come on. Write out as many English leaders from before the 19th century as you can from memory. Then count how many are women. Then ask yourself if this is all due to the bias of historians.

Joan of Arc (France) and Catherine the Great (Russia) existed too, but these prominent exceptions are salient precisely because they are unusual.

43 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Not because the historians are biased, ha.

44 M May 11, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Indus Valley? Eh? Do we know what they thought?

45 Rossle May 12, 2016 at 10:12 am

If one accepts the Aryan Invasion theory, whereby the earliest Indus Valley civilization was displaced by proto-Indo-Europeans, then your criticism is at least partly correct. We don’t know very well what the gender attitudes were of the pre-Aryan, pre-Vedic, pre-1900 BC Harappan Indus Valley Civilization. We can only say that from the time of the earliest available written records (Rig Veda, Laws of Manu) ~1500 BC the Aryan/Vedic civilization in the Indus Valley had recognizably “typical” gender roles/ideas.

There are credible analyses which suggest substantial continuity between the Vedic and Harappan cultures/civilizations and/or which suggest the Vedic period actually extends further back into substantial overlap with the Harappan civilization (e.g. that the Rig-Veda describes the geography of North India as it was before 3,000 BC, in particular via references to the Saraswati river). On this view, yes, we do have a modest grasp what the earliest Indus Valley civilization thought.

46 Anon7 May 11, 2016 at 9:59 pm

See Mansfield on Manliness. Short answer: it mostly is.

47 Joan May 11, 2016 at 10:12 am

If your definition of a society with gender equality includes ones where women do the household chores it is not surprising there seems to be a paradox

48 8 May 11, 2016 at 10:39 am

That’s just it though, the places with the most equality between the sexes, where women can freely choose, end up with less “equality” because women are free to choose feminine professions or to stay at home. Women work more, and in non-traditional fields, in poor countries because they don’t have other options.
The Gender Equality Paradox – Documentary NRK – 2011

Also, women should do the the household chores because it makes them happier than if their husband does it. It is science.
Doing household chores may mean less sex for married men

49 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:07 pm


50 Jason Bayz May 11, 2016 at 11:16 am

“A history of communism is also strongly correlated with women rising to the top in business and management; this may stem from a mix of relatively egalitarian customs and a more general mixing up of status relations in recent times and a turnover of elites.”

Maybe it’s because communism contributes to a culture of laziness and, in some places, alcoholism.

51 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 3:11 pm

I’m pretty sure communism isn’t the reason that Russians drink.

52 Jan May 11, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Oh yeah, the history of Russian love for vodka begins long before communism. The tsars used the bars as a tax farm, by far the biggest source of state revenue pre-USSR.

53 Li Zhi May 11, 2016 at 11:18 am

How about this:
Hypothesis: Marriage (monogamous long-term hetrosexual relationship, no offense) is physical.
It naturally results in a home ‘culture’ in which male preferences, when expressed strongly, are given preferential attention (if not compliance). (This is a natural result of size dimorphism and greater upper body strength)
That, in turn, results in a learning environment which favors children learning that men are the ‘natural’ leaders.
This lesson is becomes ingrained, and difficult to displace.

54 Turkey Vulture May 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm

My wife is taller than me, but I have greater upper body strength. My preferences probably get preferential attention. Will my kids learn that short men are natural leaders? I sure hope so, since despite my best efforts, they seem doomed to follow me on that path.

55 IVV May 11, 2016 at 11:25 am

“If it is harder to hire someone to do the chores, that makes it harder for women to invest the time to climb the career ladder.”

But if there’s more equality, then won’t the men also be doing more chores, and the inability to hire help affects them both?

56 Chappy May 11, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Not buying the authors contention that it’s taxes and parental leave policies. France has a high managerial likelihood and has pretty darn similar taxes and parental leave policies. There are others (Canada, Spain). Further, the Nordics have generous parental leave for men, so I call BS on it being relatively more harmful to women. Lastly, if not having generous paternal leave policies is helping produce all those female US CEOs, then why aren’t Middle East, Latin America and Africa kicking ass and taking names?

Anyway, I agree with Tyler Cowen that some econometrics would be helpful here, but just a cursory look at the authors’ support makes it seem like this guy isn’t really considering how his argument fits with the other data he is presenting.

Finally, while not something I suspect he could do, one need to consider quality and category of managerial position. I’d much rather be a female middle-manager at Maersk or for the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (presumably public) than, for example, an average director/CEO of a firm in Bulgaria or Romania, which he touts.

57 commentariette May 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

I’m not sure why you would ‘call BS’ on parental leave being relatively more harmful to men.

In Sweden, if the parental leave, three months must be taken by the mother and three months must be taken by the father, or is forfeited. The remaining 12 months can be divided as the parents see fit. In practice, ~80% of leave is taken by the mother.

Also, men can and do take their parental leave much more “strategically” then women do, so that they maintain continuity at work. Men usually take a 3-4 weeks off when the baby is born, but they take the rest of their leave around the summer or Christmas holidays (i.e. rather than using vacation time). It is also common for men to take their parental leave days by taking off one day a week. By contrast, women usually simply disappear from work for several months, due to the constraints of having a baby, nursing, etc.

In other words, men take much less parental leave than women and take it ways that are much less disruptive to their career development: A male manager often takes his parental leave without being expected to hand off his position to a substitute. A female manager who is going to be away for many consecutive months is expected to.

58 chappy May 12, 2016 at 12:14 pm

I agree. I am not saying women relative to men, I’m saying they have more male participation in parental leave relative to other countries. Nordics often have relatively more male participation in paternity leave so, compared to other countries where it all accrues to women, it shouldn’t be as harmful. (For example, why do Spain or France have so much higher %ages of female managers).

59 commentariette May 11, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Tyler’s summary doesn’t touch on this and I haven’t read the book – but another factor in gender inequality in the Nordic countries is that women are much over-represented in the public sector and men are over-represented in the private sector. Especially small and medium enterprise companies simply can’t afford to hire women to important positions, because of parental leave.

But opportunities for advancement to senior management positions isn’t so good as in medium size companies or even very large ones: 20 companies of 50-100 persons has more opportunities to take a leader role and advance to bigger positions than 2 government offices of 500-1000 people.

60 M May 11, 2016 at 5:16 pm

Women might even overperform at elite levels in places where there’s a bit of resistance? If their motive is in part a feminist “show those men”, sort of thing. If some Svens are like all “Yes, yes, of course, we are fine with you succeeding.” then perhaps you don’t try as hard.

61 Steve Sailer May 11, 2016 at 5:21 pm

My guess is that a large fraction of high-achieving American women are following in the footsteps of their fathers. I haven’t seen this tested, but I’d bet, for example, that female military officers are even more likely than male military officers to be the children of a father who was an officer.

One reason why Women’s Lib was so immediately successful with the mainstream in the early 1970s was because it offered high-ranking men with only daughters a socially-approved path that had previously been more open to men with sons.

62 Troll me May 11, 2016 at 5:36 pm

I suggest that you consider applying similar reasoning when considering the degrees of success of other social groups as well.

It’s almost like children tend to take the lead from their parents or something. And that these things get passed on. Across many generations. Perhaps since slavery.

63 Steve Sailer May 11, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Perhaps even longer than that, as surname analysis suggests:


64 El Gringo May 11, 2016 at 9:30 pm

It appears women in the Nordics are being oppressed. Let’s offer them a special refugee status. It’s the altruistic thing to do. (Just the women, mind you. The Nordic women.)

65 GoneWithTheWind May 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

If social engineering is required to get/force more women into roles they don’t seem to want or do well in what exactly is the purpose? Anyway it all begs the question. Lets simply remove all men from the Nordic society and certainly THEN the women can succeed.

66 Mark T May 12, 2016 at 11:52 am

As an overarching principle, it is impossible for a demographic group to be over-represented in any area and be proportionally represented in all other areas; it must be under-represented somewhere. I have observed anecdotally a preference of women for certain fields, especially not-for-profit sector, that is greatly disproportionate to that of men. I also note the inberent tendency of population statistics to fall out in a Gaussian distribution. So it doesn’t strike me as intrinsically surprising that research finds a tiny segment of the population that has more males than females. It has to happen somewhere if women have and men have different preferences, and it is most likely to show up in super-
small segments like CEOs than in the most populated sectors of the workforce which dominate the middle of the bell curve.

67 Rossle May 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm

Math is a social construct. And a gendered tool of oppression. So take your statistical tautologies and your privilege elsewhere.

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