Marriage and Family Therapist
Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross is a licensed psychotherapist with almost twenty years of clinical experience in the fields of clinical psychology and organizational management. She has worked extensively with a wide variety of…
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Work-Life Balance in Sweden vs. the US: How Gender Equal Are We?
Posted in Healthy Relatio... by Cyndi Sarnoff-Ross on Oct 31, 2013
We talk about work-life balance a great deal in the United States. Typically this conversation is directed at women who are struggling with balancing the demands of motherhood and a career. Article after article reports the double standard that still exists for women who work full time and are also moms. In these two income households in the US the majority of people still report that women have more household and parenting responsibilities. Of course times have changed a lot even in the last decade; nevertheless, women tend to be spread a bit thinner than men in many cases.

Often Sweden is held up as the prototype of equality when is comes to things like maternity and paternity leave. Apparently moms and dads have an incredibly generous amount of time off when they have a child, amounting to a combined 480 days! That’s pretty sweet. But wait, the dads are complaining about this setup? How can this be? Well it turns out that because dads are treated equally to moms from a societal standpoint they are expected to share the burdens of parenting 50/50. This falls under the heading of “be careful what you wish for.”

A study in the journal Work and Occupations examines 31 different countries, including Sweden and the US, to determine how both men and women saw their own work-life balance. The study looked at 2 categories: how much work interfered with one’s home life and how much home life impinged on one’s ability to do their job.

The results were interesting. Swedish men reported both of these issues as more problematic than Swedish women. The U.S. reports were divided along gender lines. Women felt that family life interfered with their work while men felt that their work impinged on their home life. It seems the males in Sweden are somehow the most stressed out of all, even with all of the extra time off for being a dad.

According to Dr. Ruppanner, professor of Sociology at the University of Melbourne, “Swedish men may not be able to opt-out of childcare responsibilities while at work.” Other countries, such as the U.S. and Turkey tend to give the males, who are still predominantly the primary income earners, a pass. Swedish women are more likely to hold their male partners accountable because of societal norms.

Wage equality has not yet caught up yet, and generally men still earn more than women in Sweden and, even with the extended maternity and paternity leave, women still use about 75% of the allotted time in order to preserve the families bottom line. Even with this equation in place, men are still expected to equally contribute at home.

Sweden may want to consider upping the wages for women so this vision of equality is actually a reality. If women and men earned the same wage for the same job then the genders would be valued equally both at home and in the workplace. This would spread the wealth and the stress more equally. In the meantime, it is probably best for those of us in the U.S. not to jump to conclusions about another country’s system and instead to focus on how we can improve upon our own system here at home.

- Cyndi

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