By: Erica Komisar – wsj.com –
American liberals sometimes hold up Sweden as a model of social order, equality of the sexes, and respect for parental responsibilities. Its welfare state offers excellent free or subsidized prenatal care, 480 days of paid leave for both natural and adoptive parents, and additional leave for moms who work in physically strenuous jobs. Swedish parents have the option to reduce their normal hours (and pay) up to 25% until a child turns 8.
But all this assistance comes at a steep cost. At 61.85%, Sweden has the highest personal income tax rate in the world. That money pays for the kind of support many American women would welcome, but it comes with pressure on women to return to the workforce on the government’s schedule, not their own. The Swedish government also supports and subsidizes institutionalized day care (they call it preschool), promoting the belief that professional care-givers are better for children than their own mothers.
If a mother decides she wants to stay at home with her child beyond the state-sanctioned maternity leave, she receives no additional allowance. That creates an extreme financial burden on those families, and the pressure is social as well. A 32-year-old friend told me that she was in the park with her 2-year-old son, when she was surrounded by a group of women who berated her for not having the boy in day care.
The Swedish government attempts to provide equal work opportunities for both sexes, which is laudable. But toward that end, it promotes the false idea that mothers are not uniquely important to babies. Women who prefer to stay home with very young children are stigmatized as regressive and antifeminist. The Feminist Initiative, a radical political party, touts day care as a way to “liberate women from their maternal instincts.”
Sweden’s maternity policies may be good for economic growth and egalitarian ideals, but not for the social or emotional health of young children. Ample scientific research shows that institutionalized day care is bad for very young children. The ratio of staff to children is too low, and the environment is confusing, overly stimulating and potentially harmful to a child’s developing brain.
Ninety percent of Swedish children under 5 are in day care. This likely contributes to mental-health problems. In 2012 roughly 20% of Swedish adolescents reported at least five instances of self-harming behavior, and the teen suicide rate hit a 25-year high in 2013.
For all its concern about equality, Sweden has one of the most sex-segregated labor markets in the world. Nearly 80% of Swedish mothers work, compared with around 70% in the U.S. Swedish women are disproportionately employed in stereotypically feminine fields like nursing and day care and highly underrepresented in “masculine” fields like finance and engineering.
Only about 36% of management positions in Sweden are held by women—lower than in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia or Australia. The median wage for Swedish women is 13.4% lower than for Swedish men. And as of 2013, 72% of public employees were women. Many of the day-care centers meant to “liberate women from their maternal instincts” are staffed by mothers separated from their own babies by the need to work.
While Sweden has worked hard to eliminate material poverty, it is creating a society whose children are suffering from emotional poverty. Children need their parents, and very young children especially need their mothers. I worry that the U.S. is heading in the same direction. Women increasingly value—or are pressured to value—career and professional achievement over family. Like Sweden, Americans have devalued parenting, and specifically motherhood, and are creating emotionally impoverished young people who have difficulty in sustaining intimate relationships and functioning as independent adults.
I consider myself a feminist, but what is pro-woman about denying that the hard work of raising healthy, stable and loving children is important? Instead of forcing women to make choices for the economic benefit of the country, society should empower them to make choices in the best interests of themselves and their families.