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Project explores the neo-liberal turn in the Nordic welfare states

The Nordic welfare states have in recent decades been challenged by neo-liberal ideals. How does this affect the gender equality and the status of care work? This will be explored in a new Nordic research project.

Internationally, the Nordic countries are considered inspiring role models: a strong region that has invested in welfare solutions for all citizens. However, the political environment has changed in important ways since the welfare systems were established. Downsizing and restructuring of the public sectors have impacted both citizen services and the working conditions for staff, most of whom are women. Researchers have talked about a care crisis for many years. But what has this change looked like and how has it affected the gender equality in the Nordic countries? These are issues that will be examined by researchers in a project titled ‘A care crisis in the women-friendly welfare states? Gender (in)equality dynamics in the Nordic welfare states’ and funded by the Nordic Gender Equality Fund. The project will result in for example the publishing of a book and a dissemination conference for decision and policy makers.

Lise Lotte Hansen, associate professor at Roskilde University.

Lise Lotte Hansen is associate professor at Roskilde University and contact person for the project. She believes that the development varies greatly across countries, regions and municipalities.

‘But there are some clear trends. For example, cutbacks in Danish elderly care have led to an increase in family-based care. The family-based care is generally carried out by women and thus affects the careers and health of women disproportionately: on average, they retire earlier, experience more stress and are more likely to work part time. Another aspect is that there is a lot of talk about men as a solution to the care crisis. More men should work in these professions when there are not enough hands to do the work. Men should also be more active at home, be on parental leave longer and so on, to relieve the women.’
How is the care crisis connected to gender equality?
‘This is an interesting debate, as the definition of equality varies among the countries. For example, in Sweden, the concept is expanded to include additional power structures. In Denmark, there is no distinct gender equality policy. Instead, some general reforms, like the introduction of public childcare, have led to changes in the area of gender equality.’

Overall, the Nordic countries have seen it as important to enable people to combine family life with a career. But the question is how long this will be possible considering the increasingly tough conditions in the labour market.
What are the benefits of Nordic cooperation on this issue?
‘The Nordic countries have a lot in common compared with the rest of the world. Common denominators include their strong public sectors and the presence of powerful organisations, in the form of both trade unions and non-profits. In this project, we will also discuss what resistance to the dismantling of the welfare sector we are seeing. The trade unions and civil society are strong forces. One interesting issue in this context is the sustainability of the Nordic welfare model, whether the Nordic countries are more resistant to this development than other countries in the world.’

Updated 29 February 2024