Thursday, November 14, 2019

Why Sweden is the world’s finest home for families

Jul 19. 2018
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By Karin Olofsdotter

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With respect to Erica Komisar’s op-ed “The Human Cost of the world’s most famous welfare state” (The Nation, July 13) I believe the author has missed the greater point of Sweden’s comprehensive family-leave and childcare policies.

In Sweden, the health of the child, mother and family are held in such high regard that parents are given 16 months off from work – paid – to recuperate from childbirth and bond with their children. There are countless benefits to this arrangement for both mother and child: allowing breast-feeding to continue uninterrupted for a year if the mother chooses, allowing the mother and father to take time to be with their new child, and to transition psychologically into this new phase of life. This applies to families who adopt, as well.

These features may be why this year the World Economic Forum named Sweden “the best country for parents”, and US News & World Report ranked Sweden #2 for “best country for raising kids”. It seems that Swedes agree, as Sweden consistently ranks at the top for highest fertility rates in Europe: No 2 in 2018.

Sweden’s generous parental-leave policies make this possible. If you choose not to go back to work after your maternity or paternity leave is up, you have that option too. But Komisar is wrong when she suggests that punitive taxation is forcing mothers back to work. She refers to the country’s top tax bracket but doesn’t mention that the average municipal tax rate in Sweden, which the majority of Swedes pay, is a much lower 32 per cent.

Komisar also doesn’t explain why it’s the government’s responsibility to pay you beyond the additional 16 months you’ve already received, especially when a subsidised day-care system exists – again, if you choose to use it.

If you would like to transition back to the workforce more slowly, you have the right to decrease your working hours by 25 per cent until your child is eight. As an individual, you can always negotiate with your employer for other arrangements as well, such as working on a part-time basis for a few years before returning to 100 per cent employment.

This family-first approach continues throughout the child’s life. You have the right to leave work to take care of a sick child for up to 120 days per child, a year for children up to 12 years old. All full-time employees also have the right to five weeks of paid vacation, allowing parents to spend more time in relaxation with their children.

Komisar also claims that childcare is somehow connected to the economic disenfranchisement of women – an odd argument given that she seems to be advocating for fewer working mothers rather than more. But she fails to mention that Sweden’s nearly 80 per cent workforce participation among women is the highest ever recorded in the EU – an indicator of a growing momentum toward gender parity.

Is there room for greater gender equality in Sweden? Of course. The movement for pay equity between men and women continues to gather strength in Sweden, and we continue to work toward promoting women in leadership. We have more work to do, at home in Sweden and globally.

As the first female ambassador of Sweden to the US, I know we continue to break glass ceilings every day. And as a mother myself, I appreciate that I – and my husband – had the ability to stay home with my children for as long as I wanted, and then get back to work on my own terms.

Karin Olofsdotter is the Swedish ambassador to the United States.

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