Women’s Labour Market (dis)Advantage in Nordic Welfare States: Reconsidering the Welfare State Paradox

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Armi MUSTOSMÄKI, University of Jyväskylä, Finland
Women-friendliness has been described as one of the normative foundations of Nordic welfare states. Publicly funded welfare services and policies facilitate the reconciliation of work and family and promote women's labour market participation, especially those of lower income levels. However, the policies that are perceived as women-friendly can also have unfavourable consequences for women themselves. According to institutional theories (Varieties of Capitalism) women in Nordic labour markets face more difficulties in their career progression when compared to their female counterparts in less regulated labour markets and less generous welfare states. Glass ceilings and glass doors would persist in Nordic countries due to family leaves and segregated labour markets. Further, generous family policy framework is supposed to have classed effects, hindering especially the career progress of highly educated women in higher skilled occupations. This controversial phenomenon has been identified as the “welfare state paradox” (Mandel & Semyonov 2006), paradox which has gained both support and criticism in comparative studies. According to critics, the earlier results supporting the welfare state paradox have not been evaluated closely enough and much of the data used to support welfare state paradox is rather old, from the 1990’s.

The aim of this paper is to look reconsider the hypothesis on women’s higher disadvantage in occupational achievements in Nordic countries. First, this paper provides a critical literature review to most recent research evaluating the persistence of welfare state paradox argument, taking into account the gender-class nexus. Second, using European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS 2015) the paper analyses the gender gap in Nordic work life from comparative perspective: are women in Nordic countries more disadvantaged in terms of career achievements, supervisory and managerial positions, and quality of jobs? Preliminary findings are point towards diminishing but surprisingly wide and persistent gender gap in Nordic work life.