In case there weren’t already enough reasons to support gender equality, a recent report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) credited it with boosting economic growth in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden over the past 50 years.
The report, “Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries,” analyzed the impact of family-friendly policies implemented across the region since the 1960s. According to the report, gains in gender equality as a result of these policies are responsible for boosting the region’s GDP per capita between 10% and 20%.
Among these policies include subsidized healthcare, care for the elderly, and paid parental leave for both parents, as well as policies allowing workers to choose more family-friendly work hours. While policy details vary across each country, they are united by a common theme: support for continuous full-time employment for men and women regardless of parenthood.
As a result of these policies, the Nordic countries have among the smallest gender gaps in labor force participation, employment, and weekly working hours.
For instance, the Nordic region’s average female employment rate ranges from 68% to 83%. Compare this to the OECD’s average of 59%—or the lowest-ranking countries Turkey and South Africa, which each have a rate of 38% or less.
Of course, progress has to start somewhere. Sweden, one of the countries studied in the report, had a 52.8% employment rate among working-age women in 1965. Dedicated efforts in policy reform saw this number jump to 81%—a difference of nearly 30 percentage points—by 1990. Denmark, Iceland, and Norway made similar gains over the same time period, while Finland had a high female employment rate to begin with.
According to the OECD report, these gains in gender equality have translated into 0.25 to 0.40 percent growth in the annual GDP per capita over the past 50 years. In fact, estimates suggest that without the increases in women’s employment, the Nordic countries’ current GDP per capita would be smaller by as much as $9,000 USD today.
Should this trajectory of gender equality continue, the OECD projects an additional 30% in these countries’ economic growth by 2040.
The key takeaway here?
When adopted on a large scale, policies helping achieve gender parity in the workplace have big implications for countries’ economic success.
“Gender equality is a keystone for sustainable, inclusive growth,” Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD, said. Gurria even made reference to Denmark’s high happiness ranking, suggesting that perhaps it’s no coincidence the Nordic countries also rank among the happiest in the world.
However, it’s important to note that although the Nordic countries are closer than others to achieving gender equality, the road ahead isn’t necessarily a smooth one. The OECD report acknowledges that pervading gender and parenting stereotypes remain a challenge—making the last mile the longest one indeed.
Joyce is a digital marketer and freelance writer who focuses on writing about personal finance on Financial Impulse. You can find out more about her work on her personal website or by following her on Twitter.