A factor often highlighted as a reason for the high level of gender equality in the Nordic countries is the number of measures making it easy for women to combine career and family; there is a high degree of kindergartens, laws for parental leave encouraging men and women to take an equal share of the leave, flexible working-hours, and maternal benefits. On first view, the legal framework seems to be serving its purpose, as female employment rates are high in all five countries. Moreover, except for Finland, all five countries have higher fertility rates than the European average.
The gender pay gapHowever, despite the high score on gender equality indexes, some differences still remain. Even though employment rates among women almost are as high as among men, and the fact that women have higher education levels than men, men continue to earn more on average than women. The phenomenon of existing gender pay gaps and high levels of gender equality has sometimes been called the Nordic gender paradox. Indeed, even though the pay gap has fallen in all five countries over the past 10 years, it continues to be around the EU average in all five countries, with Finland having the highest gap.
There are two main reasons behind this pay gap: First, women in the Nordic countries are overrepresented in industries with lower average salaries, such as educational and social care work. For instance, in Denmark, 657,000 of the 944,000 workers within public administration, education, and health are women, corresponding to over 70 percent. Second, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions. In Sweden, 19 out of 32 sectors have a majority of female managers, but these tend to be within the educational and health care sector, where salaries are lower than in male-dominated sectors such as banking and financing. The reasons for this pattern are hotly debated; while some blame the development on existing patriarchal structures, others argue that women tend to choose care work and avoid leadership positions. Some have even argued that the Nordic welfare state model is holding women back in this regard, as the generous social systems mean that women do not have to pursue a career in financial services or science in order to secure a high living standard.
Sexual harassment and crimeApart from the gender pay gap, there are other issues to challenge in order to achieve full gender equality in the Nordic countries, among them sexual harassment. For instance, in Sweden, two thirds of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. Many experts believe that this is connected to a lower threshold of reporting in the Nordic countries compared to several other European countries. The rate of reported sexual violence in Europe lends some support to this theory.
In general, men tend to be overrepresented among both the crime suspects and crime victims. In Norway, for instance, there were more male than female crime victims annually between 2012 and 2022, and significantly more men than women were imprisoned. However, there are far more women than men among the victims of sexual abuse, and in Denmark, the share of women who are afraid of sexual abuse increased rapidly since 2016.