In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, another article about the wonders of Scandinavian parental leave, the interviewer asked me about how it felt to live in such a “socially advanced” and egalitarian country for women and families. It made me chuckle because, yet again, the terrific PR machine that is Sweden™ had clearly succeeded.
It is true, Sweden does offer one of the most generous paid parental leave opportunities for parents in the world. 480 days per parent (more if you have multiples) and up to 80% of your salary paid by the state on 390 of those days as a social benefit. Once you’ve finished your parental leave you’re afforded the opportunity to place your child in one of the hundreds of thousands of heavily subsidised pre-school day-cares, full time. It’s hard not to take it for granted until you’ve had experience of the flipside. The flipside being your entire family life at the mercy of corporate monopolies and capitalist government policies. Pricing people out of the market of reproducing.
So, it’s any wonder that the rest of the world looks to Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, in awe of it’s socially advanced family welfare system. But, it didn’t all happen because of a socially liberal happenstance, or because ‘Sweden is nice’. It is economic necessity.
In a country with just over 10,5 million people, and a GDP worth 5.4 billion USD, every single person able to contribute to the economy must be given the opportunity to do so. But we also need to continue making tiny little Swedes who will be future contributors to the ever growing GDP of this country.
In 1970’s Sweden public policy around child-care was put at the front and centre to allow families with two working parents the affordable childcare, means tested and available for children between 1year – 6year. This forward thinking and unprecedented step meant that 78.3% of women now go back to work after having children (one of the highest rates for working women in EU). It also means that these women are paying taxes and contributing back into a system that allows these opportunities of striking the work/life balance so efficiently.
Let’s not forget the following benefits you receive whilst raising a family:
- Paid parental leave (480 days, 90 days reserved for both parent)
- Barnbidrag (monthly child allowance)
- Pre-natal social insurance (graviditetspenning – in case of specialist treatment or respite)
- Temporary parental leave pay (Vård av barn / tillfällig föräldrapenning)
- Nearly free child healthcare until the age of 18
- Nearly free child dental until the age of 25
- Nearly free child-care from 1-6 years of age.
The ‘socially advanced’ state of Sweden is always up for debate. There are pitfalls to claiming such things. Arguments could be made that the more ‘advanced’ a society becomes the more divisions begin to appear. But, the advanced narrative of gender equality and feminism in Sweden is the cornerstone of Sweden’s constructed image. On the surface, promoting a feminist agenda and gender equality is ‘advanced’ compared to the hundreds of other archaic social quagmires from around the world. But feminist policy isn’t just about gender equality, it’s about fiscal responsibility. By putting families and gender equality first, the Swedish Government is securing the country’s economic future. It is by no means perfect. Swedish men are still only taking a quarter of the paid leave they have access too and the burden of the domestic load is still placed on women (sick kids, pick-ups and drop-offs etc) But, we’re on it. Just remember, 16:06.