Gendered Labor Market (dis)advantages in Nordic Welfare States. Introduction to the Theme of the Special Issue
Gender equality has been named as one of the normative foundations of Nordic wel- fare states. This is reflected in how, year after year, Nordic states rank among the most gender egalitarian countries in the world (see, e.g., World Economic Forum 2020). In Nordic countries, the state has been, and continues to be, a central actor in shaping women’s citizenship, labor market opportunities, and caring roles. Especially publicly funded welfare services and policies that facilitate the reconciliation of work and care have played a major part in advancing women’s labor market participation (see, e.g., Bergquist et al. 1999; Borchorst & Siim 2002; Ellingsæter & Leira 2006; Siim & Stoltz 2015). The institutional framework of Nordic welfare state policies has been central to what has been called the ‘social democratic public service route’ (Walby 2004).
One of the important building blocks of gender equality has been the aim of making policies in Nordic countries ‘women-friendly’. More than 30 years ago, Helga Hernes (1987) identified the Nordic countries as ‘potentially women-friendly societies’. She characterized women-friendly societies as those that ‘would not force harder choices on women than on men’ (ibid., 15), particularly in relation to work and care. Hernes also envisaged that woman-friendliness should be achieved without increasing other forms of inequality, such as class or ethnicity-based inequalities among different groups of women.
However, achieving gender equality in working life and the sort of women- friendliness that Hernes envisaged at the societal level has in many ways also proved to be challenging, as the ties between the state and gender equality goals are more complex than what they might seem at first glance. Gender disparities have proven persistent also within the Nordic context. When we issued a call for this special issue, we were interested in various forms of gendered labor market (dis)advantage in Nordic countries. Furthermore, we asked how gender segregation, welfare state policies, labor market
policies, and various labor market actors interact to produce, maintain, challenge, or change gender equality in the labor market in the Nordic countries and beyond. The five articles presented in this special issue address the issue of gendered labor market (dis)advantages in Nordic countries from several vantage points, focusing on both on ‘traditional’ questions, such as corporate power and sustainable employment, and ‘emerging’ questions such as intersectionality, gender culture, and aesthetic work.
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Elllingsæter, A.L. & Leira, A. (2006). Politicising Parenthood in Scandinavia: Gender Relations in Welfare States, Bristol: The Policy Press.
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Leira, A. (2002). Working Parents and the Welfare State: Family Change and Policy Reform in Scandinavia, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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