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Sweden Championed Gender Equality to Raise Birth Rates (And it Worked)

Sweden Championed Gender Equality to Raise Birth Rates (And it Worked)

In industrialized countries, especially the United States and countries in Europe, the birth rate has been consistently declining. In the United States, this decline has been seen for decades. According to data from The National Center for Health Statistics, the birth rate in 2013 is second lowest only to that of 1997, and is down in almost every demographic category, with the exception being among women over 30 years old.

This is great news for teenagers, as this means that teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, but it’s not such great news for those worried about a rapidly aging workforce and a declining population that will not only be unable to replace retirees but will not make up enough in Social Security to ensure its continuation.

However, this declining birth rate shouldn’t surprise anyone. Women are gaining degrees at a higher pace than men, and with those degrees, they are starting careers they hope to be able to keep throughout their entire lives. Gone are the days when women would marry and have children shortly after high school, foregoing college and career in favor of family. Now, women want degrees, and they want to put those degrees to use, which is no surprise, either, especially considering the cost of higher education.

Furthermore, women who do have careers are worried that a pregnancy will work against them in the workplace. Yes, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against women because of a pregnancy, but it tends to happen anyway. Women with children are often passed up for promotions in favor of men — even if those men have children. Our society still sees women as primary caregivers in their homes and, therefore, it is assumed that a woman will need more time off or will not be as focused as a man. To make matters worse, paid family leave is a benefit of some jobs rather than a right for every job, making it difficult for families to take more time off than necessary for the birth of a child.

It’s no wonder, then, that women are deciding either to have fewer children, no children at all, or to wait until they are established enough in their careers to have children at all.

This has concerned policymakers for quite some time. However, policymakers have often taken a conservative approach, stating that feminism is to blame for declining birth rates. On the surface, this seems to make sense to many people: women are more educated and empowered, therefore women aren’t having as many children. However, the answer to the problem of a declining birthrate might be to champion feminism and empower women more. For that possibility, we turn to Sweden as an example.

Since the turn of the century, Sweden has had population policy as an important issue. In the early 1900s, Sweden’s birth rate was around 4, but fell to 2 in the 1930s and reached an all-time low of 1.7 in 1935. Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, however, were able to wrestle the issue away from conservatives and promote a more feminist approach:

In the course of time, the stated goal of population policy in Sweden was largely superseded by the quest for full gender equality. Policies favoring gender equality helped sustain a relatively high birth rate. The rhetorical emphasis shifted from population policy to gender equality, but the two goals were really one…

This makes perfect sense. Help women maintain their education and career while they have a family, and they will be more likely to have one — or a larger one — in the first place.

Much attention has been paid to comprehensive family leave policies (or a lack thereof) in industrialized nations. It’s time we follow Sweden’s example and provide women as well as men with the time off and flexible policies that make having a family both desirable and possible. Sweden has proved it can work, and we should follow in their example.

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Photo Credit: george ruiz

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119 comments

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3:40PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

We are getting better in the USA, we elect those little bundles of joy to presidency.

3:39PM PDT on Aug 1, 2014

In the United States unwed pregnancies are taboo. Other countries accept the little bundles of joy.

9:19PM PDT on May 8, 2014

I do not believe about united states going down, every time I look on fb or talk to someone, someone else is pregnant.

6:50AM PDT on May 7, 2014

Population policy is frequently short-sighted.

9:58PM PDT on May 6, 2014

Noted.

6:57AM PDT on May 5, 2014

Continued (see below) ...The fact that immigrants always get the blame when a country’ perform badly financially is a another issue so I will continue with the issue of so called overpopulation
Until all women and men are aware of their human rights, those applied condoms and other contraceptives no longer being a taboo then we’ll see have problems with some “overcrowded” nations rather than an overall problem. What we really need to do is to share our resources better, educate ourselves and our children about safe (and mutually desired sexual intercourse).
Fortunately we do not have the problem of overpopulation in Sweden. Indeed we have room for more people. All citizens of Sweden have their basic needs covered such as access to clean water (from the tap!), sufficient food, sufficient clothing and a roof on top of their heads (education is free of charge, health care (including dental) is free until the age of 19.
What I wish for is to make family planning methods available for all women (and men) around the world. And make family support accessible (I am not talking money) to vulnerable adults (or "in need"), such as family counseling guidance.
We all need help at some point in our lives, and some more than others. Jesus wasn't an egoist; Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t, Martin Luther King wasn’t and Dalai Lama isn't and so forth.

Love life!

6:49AM PDT on May 5, 2014

@DIane L. , @Kerry G. , @Will R., @Tim K., @John S. and more; OMG, seriously folks- The point of the article is that we have a good system in Sweden (not perfect), to support the DESIRE for people having children without having to worry about losing their jobs or be financially ruined...Living in a secular country that holds the official view that sex is a natural thing means that young people are educated and provided with "family planning" products such as condoms, the pill etc. if needed (through consultation of health specialists of course). Having a family should be a choice, although unfortunately so the whole issue of having children isn’t fair- there are irresponsible and "cold hearted" parents who are not deserving of any children and "warm hearted" adults who for various reason cannot have children of their own...

I wonder how much do you know about Sweden and the proposed problem of “overpopulation in the world” really..? I mean facts, not "propaganda"...There must be a certain number of people in a country to sustain the “status quo” (which should be the ideal). If there aren’t enough young people it means that there aren’t enough people working e. g in the health sector in order to look after the country’s aging population. Even in Sweden we depend on immigrants. If it wasn’t for immigrants (who for various reasons have come to “my country”) then there would be more problems rather than advantage’s

3:51AM PDT on May 4, 2014

And we are to accept the premise that more humans is a good thing?

6:57PM PDT on May 3, 2014

Most HUMANS want children, regardless of what the planet wants or needs.

5:33PM PDT on May 3, 2014

Interesting, thanks for sharing.

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