The Joys of Being a Woman in Norway

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“This year my colleague did something really bitchy to us: she got pregnant” says the guy sitting across the dinner table in my French New Year’s Eve 2014. I almost choked on my slice of camembert. I’ve been living in Norway for 4 years and never have I ever heard such negative comments associated with pregnancy. “She left for 3 months on maternity leave. I mean seriously! And then you wonder why employers don’t want to hire women in their 30’s”. This did not seem to shock anyone around the dinner table, including a guy with his baby son in his arms and my 8-month pregnant friend.

“She just leaves us like that, and then what are we supposed to do?”. I suggested a shy “Replace her until she comes back?” (I know, I have such revolutionary ideas sometimes). And I added that in my Norwegian office, at least one person goes on a parental leave every year, and for much more than 3 months. The person is replaced and comes back after the leave and everything goes quite smoothly. And, as both women AND men take a leave, employers can’t think while hiring someone that women are more likely to take a leave as both parents will take one anyway. This sounded very foreign, and not at all as a practical solution to him.

“But it takes time and energy to replace someone, the guy adds. She should have warned us that she was trying to get pregnant so we would have time to plan for this. It was quite unprofessional of her”. I can only imagine the solution to this “unprofessionalism”: an update at staff meetings where women report on a monthly basis whether they are planning on getting pregnant, the date of their last periods and an ultrasound picture if necessary. Now my turn to say…seriously?

Before living in Norway, and previously in Denmark, I had never really realised how bad it is to be a woman outside of Scandinavia. Of course I was experiencing sexism on a daily basis in France. Whether it was at work (I had a student job in a bakery) where my boss was making comments about how he had the same “éclair au café” in his pants if I was ever interested in seeing it. In the metro, where I had to make sure I wasn’t touching any man around because I had found myself several times with men taking an accidental light touch as an invitation to put their hand on my bum or even between my legs. You can imagine how hard it is to figure out whose hand it was when you are in a Parisian metro totally packed. When going out at night, I had to re-think what to wear depending on whether I would walk home alone later that night. Then I could not wear a skirt or a dress, because I would then be “asking for it”. I thought about all this on a daily basis without realising how much space it was taking, and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

“Men are just like that, they can’t help it” is the common mantra one hears regularly when discussing daily sexism in France. They have “needs” women don’t have (hum). Being attracted to a person walking passed you in the street or a colleague is one thing, but showing it with whistling or kissing sounds, insults, or jokes about your breasts is something quite different. In France this happens even in Parliement where female MPs are regularly harassed. Last year a female MP was hushed because wearing a dress, and another one, this year, had to go through her speech with chicken sounds made by another (male) MP.

Strangely enough in Norway no one seems to accept such attitude, whether it is in the street, at work or in politics. Men seem to actually respect women, and those who don’t get huge social blame for it. Colleagues look at you in the eyes, not in the breasts, and female co-workers are considered as equals, not as coffee and photocopy machines. My first day at work in my Norwegian job my boss even asked for my opinion. As it was the first time in my working life that had happened, I looked around to make sure he was actually talking to me. Even when I go out I don’t consider anymore what to wear depending on whether I will walk home alone. Sexism has stopped colonizing my everyday thoughts.

Of course most French or other non-Scandinavian men also respect women, but it is so socially accepted not to that the situation becomes unbearable. Women aren’t always the ones criticizing this situation. Like my 8-month pregnant friend, in the same dinner, who thought it was a normal reaction for her employer not to renew her contract when learning about her pregnancy. Laws exist but are rarely followed, and sexist comments are “jokes” that women like me don’t laugh at because of a lack of sense of humour.
I know that the other way around, there is also everyday sexism in Norway, as well as late night rapes and domestic violence. But we are talking about a completely different league here.

No matter how much I love my country, I realise now I am not ready to leave the joys of being a woman in Norway for any lower equality standard (that probably means I can never move away from this country). I want to continue seeing my male colleagues leave work early to pick up their kids, and hear only congratulations when a colleague is pregnant. I am not really sure what happened here for Vikings to become equality champions where men take months off to push their kids prams, but it all sounds good to me. I respect all of those, women and men, who fought and continue to fight for gender equality in Norway. If you aren’t sure how good this is, take a plane. I can tell you you have come a long way and I am so glad to be part of it!

This blogpost was translated and published in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten under the title De likestilte vikingene. on the 12th of January 2014.

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207 thoughts on “The Joys of Being a Woman in Norway

  1. This is a great post! I really enjoy the way you talk about the differences in these cultures… I also think that the Scandinavian model is one of the best in the world for gender equality and work-private life balance…

    I am now working again in Latin America, and I really miss the gender equality prospects from Denmark (which I am sure still has a lot to learn from both Norway and Sweden). I also miss the work culture that respect private life of both men and women. This is one the things I think are the most different in these words… The equal respect for both men and women and their right (and need) for private life.

    Nonetheless, I must admit, the social part of life in this side of the world is much easier to handle.

  2. I live in the US, but felt that my pregnancy was probably considered like your co-workers. When I told my boss she said she had no idea I was pregnant. I was already 5 1/2 months at the time and replied “Who goes to the doctor every month?”. They found a temp, but I am kind of anxious about when I go back to work in 10 days. I had 12 weeks off. I wonder how my co-workers will treat me.

      1. 12 weeks is actually a pretty long time in the US. My employer’s staff handbook states:

        “The standard period of Pregnancy leave is six weeks. In the event that you are physically unable to work beyond six weeks of absence, you must request an extension of Pregnancy leave … in writing. Subsequent medical re-certifications will be required as necessary.

        Pregnancy leave will not exceed four months and will be provided to employees during the time they are medically disabled on account of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, although Family and Medical leave may overlap Pregnancy leave.

        Pregnancy leave is leave without pay except to the extent that accumulated sick leave and/or vacation is utilized. Employees are required to use their accrued paid sick and vacation hours during Pregnancy leave. Once paid leave is exhausted, the remainder of the leave is unpaid. You will not accumulate vacation or sick hours while you are in an unpaid status.”

      2. That’s why I wouldn’t consider ever trying to do business in Norway. It’s a country where freeloaders consider themselves entitled to get paid when they’re not working.

      3. It’s a country, where paycheck doesn’t give you the right to be a sociopath. As a member of society you share certain entitlements and obligations with other members.

      4. “Some Guy”, that’s such a typical US right-wing view: That anyone who gets a penny from a welfare system is a freeloader with a high sense of entitlement.

        You just don’t get it. This is a very different system from what you are able to comprehend. It is a system with a safety net which enables people to focus on what’s important: Family, health, work, equal rights, and equal opportunities. Because of this system, we have a highly educated population (a smart kid can get a degree from a good university without rich parents), and a higher female work participation in business than most countries. This is good for the society, the economy, and ultimately good for businesses as well.

        That said, there are aspects of US business culture that I think are better than what we have here, but these are more related to the owner side of businesses, not the employee side.

      5. So basically you get paid in order to stay away from work? Strange thing. Is it your employer who is happy that you stay away or is is it abuse of tax money?
        If you don’t work you should not get paid. Regardless of reason.Simple as that. Basically you are selling your time to your employer. If you get paid without giving anything back I’d call it a scam.

      6. There it is again. The attitude that if you get something from a welfare system, you’re a freeloader, that you’re lazy, it’s immoral, a scam, or whatever.

        Trying to explain a welfare system to a US right-wing is like explaining mountain biking to a goldfish, but perhaps some factoids will help your understanding: In the last 8 years alone, I have contributed >$600000 to the welfare system. In 2013, I took 3 months paternity leave. I do not feel guilty for this. I do not feel like a freeloader. I am definitely not lazy.

        It works like this: In some periods, you put more money into the welfare system than you personally take out. In other periods, you may take more money out than you put in. Over time, it evens out – not for the individual, but for the society. The system must be sustainable, or obviously it will fall apart, or cause inflation, etc. It is the job of the elected government to ensure that it’s sustainable. For instance, even though you can be unemployed and receive a certain degree of financial support, it will always pay off to work and pay taxes.

        In the US, redistributing money through taxes and welfare may be considered close to theft, but Scandinavia is the evidence that this model may indeed provide benefits not just for the poor, unemployed, sick & lazy, but also for the rest. For instance, an unplanned pregnancy is not a financial disaster. You can get seriously ill several times in life and still be cared for, and you can concentrate on getting well, rather than worrying about your personal economy. You don’t have to choose which child you can afford to give a decent education. And so on.

        I pay my taxes without complaining, and receive benefits without feeling guilt. I’m not sure if you will ever be able to comprehend this.

      7. Øyvind; really well explained. If they don’t understand this then it’s their problem. Norway is booming.

      8. Excellent explanation of the fiscal implications and social motivations of the welfare state.

        I’m a Brit married to a Swede, he is working for a Swedish based organization and I am working for an American based organization. Between my husband and I, we will contribute substanatial taxes to the Swedish and American tax systems that will easily exceed the amount of money that we take out of the system individually through welfare benefits, but also through our use of public services. In Sweden, you pay a fair amount of tax but you get an incredible peace of mind as a result as well as access to great public services. In the US, you pay a lot in child care, medical insurance and education – our post tax salaries are higher from the US system, but we are not better off since there are so many out of pocket contributations. The quality of services that we have experienced in Sweden is actually better, particularly for child care, potentially because of societal pooling of risk and contributions and due to more regulation. It is also a myth that choice is higher in the US, you can also have choices in a public run system. In Sweden, I know that others are cared for on a systematic basis, and not through ad-hoc contributions or community based voluntary gestures. I love living in the US, there are many positive aspects of life there, but I am continuously saddened by the inequalities in access to basic needs.

        Employers need to also understand that the work-life balance that they provide will also be reflected in how productive their employees are and how hard they work. I have a toddler and am pregnant with my second child, but I still work on average 72 hours a week for an organization where the work allows me the flexibility to work around my family. I took 6 months of maternity (3 unpaid and part time, but this is still revoluntionary by US standards). I took my son with me on business trips until he stopped breastfeeding, and now work hours that work around my family life. I pay this back in motivation and committment that I would otherwise be too tired to provide.

        There are also productivity arguments – both in the short and long term – for parental leave. I was a part-zombie when coming back to work at 12 weeks, as are many parents who have a baby who wakes up several times a night. There is no point of being at work full-time at this point for the individual, employer, or society. This is an important period for bonding between parent and child, a period that will have payoffs for society in the long run as healthier and more protective family environments are built.

        In sum, building a society where work life can be combined with home life takes some thought, and needs to be considered from the perspective of productivity as well as the happiness that a better balance creates.

      9. The welfare system also has the good side-effect that it makes the employees (in choosing where to work) and company owners more risk-willing, since if the business goes bad, they will be able to survive through unemployment benefits. Scientists claim that makes the business in Scandinavia more innovative compared to the US where the consequences of losing your job are great, loss of salary, medical insurance and more.

    1. Erica, no one should make an assumption about a person’s weight gain or how often someone goes to the doctor. You shouldn’t at all be upset about that. You should be happy they respected your privacy.

    2. Then who takes care of they 12 week old baby while you are at work? I don’t imagine the father gets parental leave in the US when mothers get that little…

      1. The job I last worked at had parental leave. I believe it was only for a week or two. Rachel is right about daycare. It is a huge scam…I mean help to mothers and fathers who need someone to watch their children. It is seriously WAY over priced.

        This, folks is the WONDERFUL (not) country of the United States of America. Why anyone would want to come here is beyond me. I wish I had the money or I would leave.

      2. Otto, my mom will be taking care of my LO. She will attend day care part time. I wish that I could stay home with her a year. In the US, it all depends on the company. If the company is a global firm they usually have 3-4 months leave and telecommuting options when they return. I am hoping my job will let me have a more flexible schedule.

  3. One of my co-workers actually suggested I announce my pregnancy at the staff meeting. I said, “Noooo.” I didn’t either. Like, I didn’t realize pregnancies were show and tell. lol

  4. Well said!! Living in the Netherlands is not too bad (at least comapared to Argentina, for example). However, I do miss Denmark for these kind of things… I want to go back to Scandinavia 🙂

  5. The French guy has a point, specially when it comes to knowledge professions you can’t just replace people with a temp. Other then that, France needs to update their view on women.

    1. You can’t? We do, regularly. It’s all about how you manage your organization. What human resources systems you use.

      First off, you have to have a climate for dialogue, even about being away for a whole year (which is the total parental leave, full time, in Norway – divided into 3 parts, one only for the mother, a second part only for the dad, a third part which can be used by either parents). If the employer gets notice 6-7 months before maternity leave, there are ample opportunities to create a dialogue about how different parts of the work load could be divvied up, either to a new temp or partly among colleagues for a short while.

      This is done in Norway, for people ranging from “no education” to Ph.D.s – managers, professors, engineers.

      Regardless of pregnancies, which are more or less a chosen change – any organization should be robust enough to handle loss of an employee, either permanently or temporarily. If you “can’t just replace people with a temp in knowledge intensive industries”, then you’re running a high risk enterprise… I wouldn’t invest in it. Any organisation that relies to heavily on a single individual, or some few key employees, should really look into what it’s doing…

      Womens rights might actually benefit businesses, as they will handle unplanned change more easily as they have contingency plans ready made. 🙂

      1. In the us there is a social stigma against temporary workers. It looks bad on a resume to work less than a few years for any company. Companies also do not want to train new employees and expect them to ‘just know’ what the job entails. Employees also live in fear of being replaced. There is little professional or even basic human respect. Employees sometimes hide job duties and needed information from others just to make it harder to replace them. Most places do not pay well at all for, well anything, for newer workers so that positions, and job duties are guarded fiercely. When asked to train a new employee, people are generally scared they are training up their own replacement so the tend to sabotage new hires.

      2. I have no idea what you do for a job, but there is absolutely NO way that someone could step into my highly-technical and specific job, and just take over without causing a lot of lost time, money and productivity. If you’re talking about McDonald’s jobs, then sure, but there are many professions where a person new to the business can be as effective as a seasoned employee. To argue otherwise is simply disingenuous.

        Arguing that men and women should be equal in all things is just silly. What next? Pass laws that men can only be turned down for dates as often as women? Women only get as much time spent on them for sex as it takes men to climax? Men and women are just different and that’s that. When it comes to the question of employment and pregnancy, women are simply the riskier investment.

      3. Hi Jack,
        first of all, women don’t get pregnant and deliver a baby the next day, which means employers have time to plan. There can be replacement by a temp staff, or replacement by staff who is already in the team and willing to diversify their job description. There are many options here, and when leaders are open-minded and see parental leave as something they have to manage, there is no problem.

        What is your solution? All our societies need babies, because they will become adults and create of future societies. And I believe that yes, men should have equal rights to parental leave, and believe me most of them are very happy to do it when they are given the chance.

      4. True that (even if some people are actually hard to fully replace by a temp). The option of paternal leave makes the employer not look at gender when hiring. Which is just one of the benefits of paternal leave (the kid’s benefits I think is the most important).
        The employers might then think about age when they hire but at least that better than both sex and age

      5. @Jack: There are of course exemptions, but in general – and in an Norwegian context, where getting a civil engineer degree (Msc Engineering), an MBA, or an MD, is free (you only pay a fee of about US$75 per semester – and anyone is eligeble for both loan and grants for living costs) – and about 30% of the adult population at least has a bachelors degree – I would say that in larger organisations, anyone is, and should be replaceable. Of course there will be a temporary loss of productivity as a new employee gets warm, but there is a lot of skilled workers – how you use them, is a management issue. If you build a large organisation around individual performances, you’re setting yourself up to fail… if you have one of the leading technical professionals within a discipline, pregnancies are the least of your worries – as they would be headhunted at some point, and leave anyway.

        You need to build teams of professionals, that aren’t vulnerable. And, in addition, if you have special programs for women getting pregnant – you might retain their expertise after they’re done with their maternity leave. You’ll have a loyal staff.

        The exemptions I mentioned are high tech startups, where all employees are critical. But as a general idea, and in general, anyone should be replaceable. Not to have that as a threat towards the employees, but as a contingency for unforseen events.

        And about women being “riskier”, well, that’s managable by laws. I.e. Norway, where there’s a quota for paternal leave, which is lost for the couple/parents if the father chooses not to take the leave. And I believe that this is the right way to go – equal opportunities.

      6. Oh, and Jack – here’s a fun fact about Norway. Recently the social democratic/left side of Norwegian just lost the election, and they were the ones that increased the paternal leave quota. The conservative/right won, and reduced paternal leave with two weeks. Do you know who has argued against that move? The Norwegian Commerce Association (NHO), which represents business owners and employers. If the employer side of society defends both parental and paternal leave, then it couldn’t be totally impossible, or? 😉

        Run this article through Google Translate (if you can’t read Norwegian): http://www.nhoservice.no/article.php?articleID=4476&categoryID=243

    2. I am a surgeon at a small departement with three consultant urologists. I was away for three months when our youngest kid was born. It is possible with planning and social acceptance.

    3. It takes only a single empirical example to disprove a statement like that. I work in the software industry, in a Norwegian company with a high hiring bar, skilled employees and relatively high salaries (>$100k). When people announce that they’re going on maternity/paternity leave, they may be missed, and surely things might have been done differently with them at work, but generally nobody is *that* irreplaceable that the company can’t do without them for a few months. If your company is like that, then you have a serious problem if one of your employees is hit by a bus, gets sick, leaves for another company, etc.

      Basically, dealing with this is a manager’s job. Those who are whining are just unwilling to handle this part of their job and blame their employees for their incompetence.

      1. My point exactly. You can’t replace people with a temp, so you make due without that person for a limited time. Nobody is irreplaceable, but if you leave for a year and that effects neither the company nor your colleagues in a negative way, it’s probably time to find something else to do.

      2. Obviously, if you could rely on all your employees always being at work, never being sick, never being on leave for any reason (pregnancy or whatever), never needing vacation, never handing in a resignation, then you could probably run your business more efficiently than in a universe where such things do happen. My point is that these things DO happen in OUR universe, and it’s part of the manager’s job to deal with that. I’ve been in that position myself, and always tried to make sure that we spread knowledge and have a certain degree of redundancy in competence.

        I think where we disagree is whether an event like pregnancy justifies harassing people, firing people, not hiring women etc. I certainly do not think that anyone should lose their job for being pregnant – in my world view that’s just plain absurd.

      3. Absolutely. It’s much more complex, which is why we pay managers handsomely to make sure everything runs smoothly and dismissing the whole discussion with “just get a temp” points to a lack of understanding.

        Did you notice that you just compared maternity leave to disruptive situations like illness and resignations? Most companies goes to great lengths to avoid those things from happening.

        The only person talking about losing jobs here is you, and I hope we both agree that harassing people is never justified.

      4. What I’m saying is that there are many reasons for absence, and managers who choose to operate as if their workforce is 100% stable should only blame themselves if a pregnancy is a disastrous event. Calling getting pregnant “bitchy” is nothing but harassment, and your statement that I’m the only one talking about losing one’s job here is incorrect. Read through all the comments; there are mentions of people living in fear of being replaced, employers who don’t want to hire women in the fertile age group, and employees being threatened with being fired just for being sick.

    4. If there’s someone that irreplaceable, you are managing your company wrong. As I so often say, what if I (or they) were hit by a bus tomorrow? You have to be ready for emergencies, and if you are truly prepared, something like a pregnancy wouldn’t be a problem. What if it were cancer and chemo? A broken leg?

  6. What a fabulously eye-opening look at gender politics. I am a woman in the US in a female-saturated profession (teaching), it’s not uncommon for women to take maternity leave, so long as the woman in question leaves work for her temporary coverage. It is likely that the school will already have an in-house substitute or easy access to one. Therefore, the shift is generally smooth. But I wonder if this shift is so smooth because of the female population in the profession. In general, women are more cooperative and likely would empathize with another woman’s situation. But it makes me wonder if my profession had been in a more male-dominated one, would this fluidity exist? Probably not!
    Thanks for the great post, keep them coming! X

    1. Borderline genderistic, that one Liz. Here’s an idea, it’s not the men that are the problem – but your system and culture. Men can be and are both cooperative and empathic.

      Here’s job advertisement from a software developer in Norway, called Mystore.no. http://www.finn.no/finn/job/fulltime/object?finnkode=45672136

      Notice some of the conditions:
      “* Freedom with responsibility
      Our core hours are between 9 and 15, so we would appreciate if you are in the office or available from the home office / library / café those hours. Having said so, we work itself often in the evenings when the kids have gone to bed, and comes rather a little later the next day if we had an efficient night in front Sublime Text.”

      Software/ICT is in general male dominated still, even in Norway… This employer both recognizes that the employees are dads and familymembers. They open up for flexibility so that they both can do the job their paid to do, as well as the one they’re obligated to to as equal parents in a household. 🙂

      1. Didn’t translate it myself, just ran it by Google Translate, but you get the general idea. 🙂

    2. Your last statement suggests a little hostility towards men, but that’s not relevant here.

      I doubt that the ease of finding a substitute has anything to do with the fluidity of your work environment. The fact that substitute teacher are easily found can be caused by the amount of specialisation needed for the job, and teachers (especially those in elementary school) do not require as much specialisation as, say, those working in engineering or even some types of skilled trades, and will therefore be easier to replace. It can also be caused by the fact that teachers in elementary schools aren’t in short supply. On the contrary, twice as many are being trained as are needed, so job positions are more easily filled than in other fields of profession. Teaching in STEM education is however needed, and whether it’s Europe or the U.S., there’s a dire need for them (if you belong to this group my last statement won’t apply of course).

  7. There is a hundred reasons why people may not be present at the workplace all the time. While being new parents is typical for the 30’s , people in their 40 feel like travelling or self-realisation through fun projects or even taking classes not to mention 40-50 is divorce-age, and 50’s a long list of funerals and care for elderly parents, and own health, in the late 50 going on 60 health issues is more apparent.

    Any good manager know that having everyone and every position at work all the time is utopia, so planing to be flexible is important. It may be that there is always a position available because hiring takes time, or there is not enough on the budget. Being annoyed that workers in their 30 have kids is pointless, they do have kids. So the question is, should one not hire the best worker possible, even if the person says that sometime the next 5 years s/he will be absent for 6-12 months , most have one or two kids? Would a less skilled/not so good fit employ make up for that? If so, why not hiring the lesser on as a temp?

    (by this time you realise i am norwegian) So bottom line, you can be angry about someone having a kid, or smile, you have to deal with it anyway in some way.

    1. In the US the situation can be very dismal. A relative of mine lost his job because he had to take too much time off to care for his dying father. I was blown away by the insensitivity of that. The poor guy lost his father and his job at the same time!

      I honestly hate working here. Until you get into higher-level positions, you are often viewed as completely replaceable. No one has time for your personal life, and a lot of employers seem to think their employees have no business even *having* a personal life. They are told to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas, they are not given time off to care for sick children or parents. Even calling out because of your own illness can be risky. I have been threatened with being fired for calling out of work (at a restaurant) because I had a stomach flu and was vomiting. I would think they’d WANT me to stay home, because who wants a vomiting waitress?

      The sexism is also a problem, but it is very insidious, not obvious at all. I have been in situations where I experience a thousand small things that all add up to a very uncomfortable environment. Things like slightly off-color jokes, male co-workers not listening to a word any of the women say, suggestive looks from co-workers or customers, comments that imply a lot but at their surface are harmless. Actually trying to report the problem is impossible, you’ll look like a paranoid lunatic.

      The combination of sexism, and of the American view that lower-level employees are replaceable drones and not human beings with personal needs, can make American workplaces very hostile. It’s no wonder our economy is doing so badly right now! Hopefully we can evolve in the future and learn something from our Scandinavian friends.

      1. Hate to break it to you, but your job as a waitress is very much replaceable. You keep mentioning this concept of the “American workplace” as if you have a holistic understanding of the job landscape in the US. In professional level jobs you are employed on behalf of your skills and abilities, making you a valued asset to the company. As a cashier at McDonald’s, however, one is employed because a machine to replace him or her would be too complicated, expensive, and possibly unreliable. But that is changing…

        You act like, as a person with a job–and this could be any job at all here–you are entitled to a full spectrum of human needs and benefits. The humanist in me agrees with you. Minimum wage is not a livable wage. However, the realist in me understands the notion of supply and demand. If literally anyone can replace you, why do you deserve $30/hour? In very broad terms, your only worth to the world is what you produce. And if what you produce isn’t of value, then you simply won’t be compensated for it. This is why scientists and doctors make $$$$$ and waiters and janitors make $. Not everyone can be a scientist, and science is valuable. Anyone can be a waiter. And if suddenly all waiters in the world went on strike, people would have to resort to making their own food (the horror!). Waiting tables is not a valuable job.

        You say we have something to learn from our Scandinavian friends. How they can get away with giving both men and women 12+ months of PAID leave I don’t totally understand. But I know it comes at a cost. Someone’s gotta pay for it. The entity ultimately burdened by that cost (at least in the capitalist model that I do understand) is the consumer. Why do you think we have such cheap goods in America? Cheap labor. Who provides this cheap labor? Unskilled, expendable workers. Raise the minimum wage, and cost of living subsequently increases. Maybe in a more socialist model with more wealth distribution, the million$ that CEOs and corporate officers can make in America could be used subsidize a raise in minimum wage, or wages across the lower end of the spectrum. But I can only speculate here… Also keep in mind cultural differences (many years in the making) exist that affect how economies work. Gun restrictions work great in Japan, but you can’t just drag’n’drop that into America and expect that to play out with any measure of success.

      2. > FATBOI420
        > How they can get away with giving both men and women 12+ months of PAID leave I don’t totally understand. But I know it comes at a cost.

        And here’s another thing that right leaning people don’t seem to understand – not giving both men and women proper paid leave comes at a cost too. Your so called “personal success” comes at a cost of people’s liberties. They sacrifice their right to not be threatened by emergencies (and I’m not talking about pregnancy only here) so that you could succeed “by yourself”.

        You’re exploiting human resource. You can do it stupidly — simply pump it until it dries, or someone could force you to ensure it’s renewable. Latter means accounting for social, health and other emergencies, that might threaten resource, that makes you money. You’re part of the ecosystem after all.

        There exists a basic right to survive in conditions, that allow pursuing better ones. If you don’t value your janitor position enough, you’re welcome to have a filthy office. And let’s see how costly will it be for your business in not so long run.

        This is why minimum wage and supply and demand arguments are disconnected from reality. The wage for basic jobs is low not because those positions don’t warrant higher one, but because employers managed to find people desperate enough to accept the proposition. By the virtue of lacking regulations, employers — often unwittingly — reinforce these people’s desperation. It’s a good old self-reinforcing feedback loop.

      3. FATBOI420, I am so glad that I’m not living in the us..
        In Norway we can’t treat people difrently. A waitress is as valuable in the society as a doctor. You appear very arrogant, focusing in a persons job, not their opinion.
        “Not everyone can be a scientist, and science is valuable.”
        In Norway actually everybody can study and be a doctor, lawyer, scientist etc. School and education is not only for people with money, but for everybody.
        We don’t value people by their job, education etc, because it’s superficial. To be noticed as an successful person, you have to show off other qualities. For a man, that means for example he is actually living in the present, let the mother of his children work as much as him self, stays home and take care of family and house as much as his partner etc.

    2. In Norway it is actually illegal for an employer to ask an employee about his or her family planning unless the employee brings the topic to the table.

  8. Actually the vikings, while having very strict gender roles, had far better women’s rights than most cultures at the time and it took many hundred years after the viking era ended for women to regain those rights. For instance, a viking woman could find herself a new husband if her current one could not satisfy her in bed. There were harsh penalties for offending a woman or giving her unwanted attention (a kiss for instance) and they were to be treated with respect.

      1. Also, there was no stigma from being a rape victim among the vikings. A rapist, however, a man that could not get a woman any other way, was held in very low regard. (Not counting raids, i guess)…

      2. The quick version for this was that the males where out on sea for long periods of time. And when they where out fishing or raiding the wife where in charge of the household and farm for most of the year. Unfortunately much changed when we adopted Christianity.

  9. Hi, interesting observations! I am a Norwegian living in France at the moment, and I discussed this issue with my french flatmate just now over coffee. He pointed out something quite important: while in Norway it’s the state that pays the cost of maternity leave, the French state only has to pay half of the materity leave… That means that French enterprises have a real economical disadvantage when women are temporarily away to have their babies. No wonder they raise their eye-brows when women in their late twenties/early thirties come around for interviews 🙁

    1. That is partially true, but the state only compensates you up to a certain limit (a good average wage). In most large in large companies with knowledge workers, where the average salaries are higher, it is quite common for the company to pay the remaining amount (which often can be about 50%).

    2. No mater how you look at it, every child being born are an asset to the sosiety. They are the future. How a company can’t see that giving birth is a nessesery thing for all the country, their buissnees included, shall go around. Are beyond me.

  10. In Canada, I as a new father took the full parental leave (36 weeks) when my first child arrived. Work was a little shocked, as it isn’t the social norm for the man to take the time off.

    1. I have an impression that Canada is way further then the US when talking equal rights. (36 compared to 6 weeks) Thus I have to ask:
      Althoug shocked by the occurrence of an unusual event, how were the post shock reactions? In general positive or negative?

  11. Excellent post! Welcome to 2013.

    “I am not really sure what happened here for Vikings to become equality champions where men take months off to push their kids prams”

    Actually, Scandinavia was a very well structured and civil culture, where women were respected and took part in social, economic, political AND military aspects of society (among other). The VIKINGS were primarily outcasts from society, “banished from sanctuary”, usually because of pillaging in their own country. From there they went to the Faroe Island (for Norwegian vikings at least), Shetland, Orkney, Scotland, Ireland and on and on… 1-2 per cent of the population could have been considered actual Vikings. This according to Yngve Ustvedt in “Vikingene – verre enn sitt rykte” (Vikings – worse than their reputation).

    Today, unfortunately, vikings are more of a broad cultural icon. Therefore, every other business in Norway is named “Viking (insert line of work here)”, for example ironics like “Viking Rescue Service”, or the multiculti “Viking Kebab”.

  12. Norway’s economy can support such social policies with ease. You have the 2nd highest GDP per capita income in the world and state owned oil fields to fund having your salaries paid while you’re on leave. You’re also a net exporter and creditor, not a debtor. Financially, you’re one of the best off countries in the world, why not enjoy a lot of time off? So… are you accepting applications to live there?

    1. Anyone who have qualifications and competencies we need, are in general welcome. Anyone in dire need of protection under the Human Rights Declaration are welcome to come and seek asylum (even though there are right wing activists that want to reduce these numbers).

      A note on the oil, which many tend to elaborate on, when ever the Norwegian welfare state is mentioned – this hasn’t come easily, or has been inevitable. Behind our rich state, are years of strategic planning and also international politics (international division lines for offshore petroleum). We have a sovereign fund which at the moment is about US$ 0,84 billions, but still we spend only a fraction of this – we only spend *parts* of the earnings and interests.

      Also, when it all began in the sixties – politicians made a move, ensuring that natural resources are the peoples property, and this goes for things as waterfalls too. One may harvest natural resources as a private enterprise, but oil production is extremely highly taxed. Fishing resources are divvied among private ship owners, and those rights fall back to the state after a period of about 17 to 25 years. One might build a hydroelectric dam and earn some profits, but after a maximum running time of 50 years, the dam becomes government property.

      The land and it’s resources belong to the people, all of us. This sounds a bit communistic, but private enterprise is what usually does the actual work – and they do profit. Even the governments direct involvement in such production, is done through open marked and ordinary commercial enterprises. Statoil, is a public company where anyone can buy stock, but the state owns over 70% of the company.

      We do have oil and waterfalls, but it has always been more or less a consensus that this is the peoples property – and not something that should be handed over to private investors, where they could do as they want with it. It’s a different direction than the US, and it has it’s disadvantages. In good times, we will probably not have the same growth as the US, but in worse times – ordinary people aren’t left to fend for themselves, while investors wait for better times to come back.

      Everything isn’t perfect, and there are many flaws in how we do things – but I wouldn’t change it for anything. Not even the high innovation rate the US has every bragging right to. 🙂

      1. The fund (SPU) is (2014) $ 840 billion. (Norw. “milliard” = US “billion”, Norw. “billion” = US “trillion”) . The fund exceeds $ 150 000 pro capita.

      2. Willy: You’re of course right. The error wasn’t me misunderstanding million, billion and trillion, but me totally being blind and thoughtless when feeding the numbers in the currency calculator. :p

        In stead of feeding 5104 (or something) into the calculator, I fed 5,1. The calculator doesn’t accept the full number.

        Anywho, my previous math teachers should be ashamed of me, not spotting my error in shifting the decimal point. 😛

    2. You are misinfomed in some aspects. The oild funds are generally not used, especially not for covering running costs, but invested for future use. Also, the fact that we have a high GDP might be an indicator that our system works well, so thats a pretty bad argument.

      But yes, of cource, the fact that we have plenty of money makes such policies easier to uphold.

    3. Charles, well spotted.
      Not sure where you are from, but lets do a Norway VS US sort of the thing.

      As an US employee your life looks very much like the life a Norwegian employee.

      The differences start appearing when shit hits the fan i.e loosing your job.
      The paradox to me is that allot of your securities are tied up to having a job which in turn lets you pay for things such as health, dental and other insurances.
      In Norway the taxation on a general salary is between 35 – 50% that might sound insanely high. What that high taxation gives us is security when shot does hit the fan. Imagine if the 10 – 20% of the richest Americans contributed 30 to 50% of their salaries into the general welfare system? That is your private oil fields right there.

      The U.S want more oil fields, cut military spending by 20-30%?

      The fact is, even if Norway is very well of, in a large part due to oil, the US to could ofc been in a very different situation too if you had a more socialistic approach, saying that is to my understanding more or less the same as swearing in a church 😉

      This is ofc tied in with the debate about women and their right / need to take care of their child. Just googled parental leave. Seems the U.S gives is one of the countries that gives the least parental leave in the industrialized world. That I would not have thought. Take the info with a grain of salt as i found it on Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parental_leave

      The benefits of living in America is ofc that if you are part of the middle / upper middle class, you have access to better services than the Norwegian counter part. That is ofc until you lose your job. As a society I also think you benefit from having more entrepreneurs and start-ups as I would guess judging by the various comments above, people would be desperate to get out “low-profile” jobs.

  13. I’ve lived in France and Norway, and am myself an American… and a mom of one… And while we should all be so lucky as to have the Norwegian parental leave, the Norwegian smugness gets tiresome. Rather than focus on how much better it is to be Norwegian and how SHOCKING it is that people might not have paid parental leave, why not focus on how shocking it actually is that in many parts of the world, normal childbirth is still life-threatening. Or focus on something constructive, like how to keep Norwegians from being complacent due to the country’s mineral wealth.

    As for France, well, I am consistently unimpressed by the over-sexed nature of society and relations between men and women. Call me Anglo-Saxon (though I’m not), but I don’t think relations in the workplace between men and women should HAVE a sexual vibe. What percentage of French men or women would agree with me? The way that everyone knew for years about the allegations against Strauss-Kahn from Tristane Banon and no one cared, then people acted surprised when it came out what a sleazeball he is… hard for me to understand.

    I have plenty to say about my own country too, but that’s for another day!

    1. We might look “smug”, but I would rather think that we’re proud. I do also think that we have the right to be proud – as does the US of a great many things. We do pay a price for our welfare, and I might mention the innovation rate (where the US absolutely should be proud of itself).

      If we’d shifted more of our resources over to private hands, we might also have seen the rates of innovation and invention the US can show the world.

      Still, we do spend an increasing amount of both time and money into research and innovation. Our mineral wealth is also in general difficult to access, and demands high tech solutions to be harvested. The technologies developed and applied in our petroleum industry also have long term applications, beyond oil. Our offshore platforms are some of the safest in the world. We constantly develop subsea technology. We’re quite aware of the danger in being complacent, and we’re taking steps. May I also mention what we’re doing in medical research and biotechnology? Lytix Biopharma, working within the field of blue/marine bio tech, are just a couple of years away from actually curing certain types of cancer. http://www.lytixbiopharma.com/news/202/252/Norwegian-cancer-medicine-presented-at-the-world-s-largest-liver-congress.html

      But in regards to showing compassion towards other nations, and places in need, Norway isn’t slowing behind. Even after the conservatives/right came into power, we still dedicate 1% of our GNP to foreign aid. And most of those who like to “brag” about women and parental rights, also care about helping and giving aid to those in need.

      Of course, we do get nauseating at times, and people who get sick of us probably have every right to speak out – but we’re not as bad as some think us to be. 🙂 Just as the US isn’t just a nation of greedy narrow minded war mongers, but rather a nation of compassionate people with an entrepreneurial drive. 🙂

  14. Excellent post 🙂
    I can see from the few replies by US men here that they have extraordinarily high thoughts of themselves, and I think therein lays the problem.
    They think that they are irreplaceable, and that women never should hold higher positions than themselves. They can not say that in public, but that is what they believe. As the Vikings took care to respect their women, they also worshiped their children. It was not until religion, in the form of warriors from the south came about a thousand years ago, that the decline started.
    I am not going to make this a debate about religion, but the new patriarchal mindset slowly took over, and women was forced to take a huge cut in respect from society. As far as I know, the Viking women even got to vote.(in some cases) We did no see that again until early twentieth century. What american men have still to find out, is that in a workplace where everyone shares a mutual respect for one another, the time off from work a person takes, can actually be a very positive thing. In my workplace, everyone is happy when a woman is having a baby. There is even cake 🙂
    This makes news about a coming baby a celebration rather than something you hide until it shows. The practical result of this, is that everyone can contribute in preparing for when the person have to take time off. It also gives the company ample time to take in a temp, and get the temp up to speed.
    All this and more, make taking time off from work a lesser impact on both the coming mother, and the company.
    I can see that in the extremely competitive work environment of the US, it would be almost impossible to get to where Norway is today without new laws and a total reconstruction of their social economic thinking. I can see that, but if USA want to get their economy back in order, maybe the Norwegian way, might be a healthy goal to strive towards.
    I am in no way saying that everything in this country is perfect, and there are some that consider our system more and more female dominated.
    In some ways that might be true, and maybe there are things we need to look at anew. One thing I do know is that male kids today might not get the same “manly” upbringing that I did. My father taught me to be a man, and to respect everyone. I learned to use a knife, and a gun, put up a tent, and to fish. But so did my sister.
    Kids today are the children of a workforce that are mainly of the office kind. They spend their time mostly in front of a screen. Sports are something they have to do so they don’t get bullied, and from an early age, they learn that if they want to succeed in life, they have to have a lengthy education so they can make a lot of money. They are taught that money and fame will make them happy, and that nothing else matters. Just look what our children are presented with every day through all the different form of media that they consume.
    Well that was all for now 🙂
    Robert
    46 years old.
    3 beautiful children and a beautiful wife of 18 years.

    1. If you worship your children, then a parent needs to raise them full time. Like in the Viking days of yore. This is traditionally the female, but it can be the male (or the other female if it’s a homosexual relationship). Norwegians get a year off — why not the entire childhood? When the kids turn one — do they no longer need or deserve full time care from the parents? I would rather have spent full time with my children from the ages of 1 to 2, than from birth to 1.

      Having children is arguably the biggest life choice you can make, and you expect it not to affect your life in some negative ways? Every other little choice you make in life has pros and cons, but not the choice to have a child?

      When you take a day job and send your child to daycare — are you teaching them that money is more valuable than raising them?

      1. No, I would say sending my kids to daycare teaches them that having a job is important and is what brings money home. It also teaches them (hopefully) that you can aspire to whatever job you want, and keep it *even* as a woman. Daycare per se also teaches children a lot of social interaction with other kids and adults, encourages their fantasy, cooperation and communication skills… etc.

        If your kids are in a safe, educational environment with trained pedagogues and with kids their own age while the parents work, why would that be bad? Why do you assume that a parent (the mom I guess?) automatically is a better care giver/teacher than anyone else?

        Here in Sweden (which is a lot like Norway) most parents stay at home with a child after birth for a total of about 18 months. First usually the mom and then the dad. Then you go back to your job. As simple as that. We get paid what you might call a minimum wage from The Swedish Social Insurance Agency. (If you live or work in Sweden you are automatically covered by the Swedish social insurance. It provides financial protection for families and children, for persons with a disability and in connection with work injury, illness and old age.)

        I stayed at home for a year with both my children and my husband for 4-5 months. After that they started preschool/daycare like most kids in the country do. And they love it there!

  15. Wow – this is a really fantastic post. Being in America where things are much the same as you’ve described they are in France, it gives me hope to think that somewhere in the world, both genders are treated with respect and that family takes priority and is something that people seem to cherish. To be honest, I have a lot of interest in foreign travel/study and possible relocation and find myself very drawn to Scandinavian countries for many reasons. This post is persuading me to explore those possibilities further. Thank you for sharing!

  16. “I am not really sure what happened here for Vikings to become equality champions where men take months off to push their kids prams”

    I can tell you, the Labour movement. 🙂

    Thanks for the great post!

    1. Actually, viking society was fairly equal compared to the rest of the world.. Women could have children out of wedlock before marriage. These children were taken in by the mother’s family as equals. Having a child before marriage was not shameful, it proved the.woman was fertile, i.e. a good thing. Women also imherited. AND could be shield maidens/warriors. Women gradually lost many f these rights when Christianity became our religion though

      1. Women also had full tights as witness at the “ting” (Viking court) as They had the right to inheritage and to divorce. The Women of the house Held the keys and the responsabilities for the farm as much as the man, though he was on trading trips part of the time.

  17. I think the gender equality in Scandinavian countries stems from back in the Viking’s times where women were not only mother’s, wives, housekeepers and cooks but they fought for their homes by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons sides. They were not treated like frail maidens to be locked up in a tower like the other women of the world, they were nearly equals.

  18. Very interesting! I actually didn’t know that France was still that sexist. It must be exhausting to always think about how you are perceived, and not to be seen as an equal in the workplace. I am a Norwegian living in Argentina, and I don’t even think it is that bad here, even with the history of being a traditional, Latin country. I work in the hospitality industry, so maybe it is a little different. Anyway, great post, great blog.

    1. How long have you been living in Argentina? There are great problems with inequality there, sexist comments were basically daily occurences while I lived there and most of my female friends have been sexually harrassed by higher ranking employers/bosses.

      1. First of all, hope you are not calling me boluda? Anyway, I was saying that from reading this, it seems to me that France is worse than Argentina, something that surprised me. I did not say that Argentina does not have lots of problems with inequality, because it certainly does, but that France seems even worse. (I have lived here for a year and a half but have spent lots of time in Latin America before that and have worked with people from Latin America my entire career so I am quite familiar with the harassment and other problems.)

    2. I’m not calling you Boluda, that was meant as a friendly joke on my part. It wasn’t my intention of sounding harsh towards you, I’m happy that you haven’t experienced much problems being a woman at your work. I’ve lived in France as well and although the discrimination at the workplace can be bad there it is a lot worse in Argentina in my opinion. I believe that i my french friends were told by their bosses constantly how much they would want to have sex with them they could sue, if you try this in Argentina it would be your word against his and you would end up loosing your job.

      1. Ah, OK, all good! 🙂 Like I said, I guess I was surprised that it was that bad in France. I already knew that it was pretty bad in Latin America, including Argentina, but thought that France was a tad more progressive. I worked at a very Latin American institution for five years and just doing the numbers on the professional staff it was obvious that it was much harder for women to get a professional position or advance. However, because it was a more international place, with people from all of Latin America, I believe the harassment etc. was less than if it had been just one country, if that makes sense. What you say about the Argentinian bosses is just depressing. 🙁 Would love to hear more about your experiences in both countries; thanks for sharing.

  19. The parental leave system in Norway also creates opportunities for fresh graduates to try working life – and the employers to try out new people.

    I love many of the comments here, particularly all the men stating that they are, in fact, replaceable.

    I also agree that we must be careful not to become smug – I find Norwegians too often to be. We are very proud of our system, and should be, but we shouldn’t forget that we are filthy rich, partly just out of luck.

    And, finally, we get a wonderfully generous leave, but back at work, both parents working full-time and no help at home is much tougher than in many other countries where people in high positions would have some kind of help at home.

  20. Oh, and may I add – It’s a joy being a man, and a dad, in Norway. Actually getting to spend time with our kids, is just down right invaluable. When I’m an old man, down the road – I’ll have so many memories, and when I eventually am on my death bed, I’ll go to my grave with a smile on my face remembering a full life with my daughter.

    She’ll be six years in a couple of months, and every single day with her sticks in my memory. I do have tough and strenuous days at work, but I also have a good connection with my daughter (mostly because I want to, but having a society that expects it helps a lot), and hard days at work are easily forgotten when laughing and having fun with my kid. 🙂

  21. “I am not really sure what happened here for Vikings to become equality champions (…)”

    Really cool you mentioned this since Norway and Scandinavia during the Viking age had some really sophisticated justice system (to be at that time). You were treated as innocent until proven guilty and had the possibility to defend your self when claims of unlawful stuff was put upon you.

  22. If only every country was blessed with too much oil under the rocks.

    But seriously, if people are well organized in their jobs, handover to someone else shouldn’t be a big issue. The more irreplaceable you are, the more is going wrong in your company.

    1. Things could have gone differently for Norway. There are other countries with abundant natural resources, where there still are great differences.

      In Norway however, we’ve had a long standing tradition that our natural resources are the peoples property. Even before we struck oil, we still had waterfalls – and those would have been (and probably was at the time) attractive for private investments. So in 1909 the parliament legislated that any concession to build hydroelectric plants should have a limitation of a maximum of 50 years, and then be transferred to the state without any pay. This was attempted disputed as unconstitutional in 1918, but found not to be so in our Supreme Court.

      Similarly we have our fishing resources, which are “owned” or at least controlled by the state – where one might apply for/buy a quota of, which has a maximum duration of 25 years.

      In the sixties, the same thing happened with the oil outside Norway. One could not buy a piece of sea bed, and keep it – but enter into a co-ownership with the state. And even though there are private concessions today, there is about 70-80% tax on oil production.

      Had we had a different philosophy, i.e. in the US where private ownership is almost sacred, we could easily have sold out all our resources – and all the revenues had been sent to Cayman Islands. Somewhere down the line, we chose to handle it differently. And I’m glad those old geezers did so. 😉

      Our wealth and our welfare system, is hardly just a product of luck – even though that has some part in it… 🙂

    2. Actually that is a common causality confusion even in Norway. The Scandinavian Countries (Norway most sertantly is not alone) do not have the social benefits they have because they are rich. They are rich because a social economy work.

      The Governmental cash proffits from the oil that actually reaches the working economy is smaller then you would think. Although the oil have given Norway a good safety net, It has never been a notable part of the Norwegian day to day economy. The surplus has from the start been tied up in a fund for long term safety. The Government is only allowd to spend limited to 5% of the funds surplus, not the fund, each year. Commonly what have actually bin spent has bin less the 3%…
      That said; Norwegian oil have had great impact on technology development, but not parental leave.

      Giving everybody a chance to educate ‘for free’, care for the sick ‘for free’, give a parental leave of 56 weeks ‘for free’ is a cost for the community, but it pays back with high interest in the long run. Mostly by produsing a healthy, happy and highly educated work force containing of both men and women in a larger age group.

      1. I think I should clarify myself a bit here.
        The Norwegian economy has clearly benefited greatly from the oil. It has created a great industrial and technological progress and played a key role in that context. That said, contrary to what the prevailing perception want it to be, the oil has not functioned as a money faucet Norway has been able to open to do all rich over night. The real reason for our strong economical position is sound financial management and long-term investment in the strength of the community.

        One of the best evidence we have of this is that our four neighboring countries in Scandinavia , which has never had oil, has approximately the same strong economy like Norway , while countries like Nigeria have large amounts of oil, but struggling with widespread poverty. Iceland even got their economical back broken some years ago, but their strong sosial fundation made them capable of turning their whole economy in just two years without a drop of oil. Respect to Iceland!

        It is true that such a form of government might make it harder to become a Bill Gates in Scandinavia than in the U.S., but it’s not impossible. Just look at Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA. A Swede who at one time was the world’s richest man. Even ahead of Bill Gates. At the same time, even if not generating as many of the major economic super giants through this mindset, it helps you get more of the medium-sized giants. 99.99(and probably a few more number nine)% of the world population will never have a need for better economy than a medium sized giant have. And if one adds together many midsize giants they willquickly add up to become much greater than a few super giants.

  23. It’s not necessarily the oil that makes all this possible. Take Finland, for example: we have no oil or anything like that to make us a rich country, in fact we were quite poor until some decades ago, yet we have a system similar to Norway – although not quite as advanced (yet, hopefully!).

    1. In several areas, Finland exceed Norway. High tech, research and education should be mentioned. One of the greatest similarities between Finland and Norway, in regard of policy, is state ownership. Finland also have a very active and involved state and government, which would to a US Republican voter be regarded as down right communism.

      Just read an official document from the Finnish government, and I see several similarities. http://valtionomistus.fi/english/files/2011/12/Periaatepaeaetoes03112011_eng.pdf

      BTW, maybe we could trade cliffnotes… you get ours on parental leave, we get yours on education? 😉

  24. I’m American. Frankly, I was shocked to read, “[a]nd then you you wonder why employers don’t want to hire women in their 30’s.”

    Most American men don’t even acknowledge there *is* gender discrimination in hiring. If anything, they feel like political efforts toward gender equality (in socioeconomics) are unnecessary due to higher numbers of women graduating college than men, and the substantial number of men displaced from manufacturing jobs over the last 3+ decades as they’ve been offshored. Granted, most American media is more conservative than the country actually is, and most online comments sections on news sites and blogs display far more rudeness and aggression than people display in real life, but this is a common theme.

    At my company there is no solid rule on how much maternity leave you can take. I work in IT and were I to get pregnant (unlikely) I’d work it out with my manager. Judging by what other women have taken, I think I could get three months’ paid leave. The men in the office only get two weeks paternity leave. Hardly fair. The idea that it’s “a woman’s job” to be home with children and men are just there to “occasionally help out” keeps the gender dynamic extremely imbalanced and reinforces an system that disadvantages both men and women. I think universal maternity and paternity leave — of equal time span — should be federal law for businesses of all sizes. (Most labor laws in the US are tiered to the size of the company/number of employees/hourly wage vs salary position/contract vs in-house employee. It’s very granular. Even minimum wage is state-specific.)

  25. Hi Diana.
    Three months is crap! It’s not family/women friendly. Here is why:

    1.) Breast feeding! If you nurse your child, how does that work? You have to stop in the midst of it beacause you have to go to work instead? I know that a lot of women in America choose not don’t breast feed their children. Here most do. Do you think that is beacuse it’s simply impossible to do so with just tree months leave? Or is it because society convienently has convinced women that bottle feeding is better (so thay won’t to it and will work?). I know, very conspirational thinking, but still.

    2.) Independency! To be able to stay at home for a longer time in America you have to either have a partner that works and brings home enough money for you to not have to work. Meaning that men’s wages *has to* stay higher than womens to support that system. If you are a single parent or in a low income family – what do you do then? You can’t afford staying at home, and you can’t afford child care? Also staying at home for a long time (as a stay at home mom) means the woman doesn’t earn pension – which till affect her later on.

  26. This is what I absolutely loved about Norway. I was there in Sept of 2013, and fell in love with the place! I’m trying very hard to move there.

  27. Hi, I loved your post! I am french and I was horrified to hear the reactions of your friends, I do not agree with them!! And I also realized that everything you are saying about france is true (I never though there was an alternative) and that I don’t think it’s normal : what you have in norway should be the norm! France still has a long way to go!

  28. Hi Emelie,

    It gets more into detail than I am able to discuss, but I know the Affordable Care Act amended part of the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow nursing mothers time during the work day to pump breast milk if they work for a company with 50+ employees. They’re also supposed to be accorded a non-bathroom space for the pumping of breast milk. Most working women I know pump breast milk, store it, and then put it in bottles to bottlefeed.

    Under the Family and Medical Leave Act a new parent can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from a job, guaranteed that your job is secure when you return, but that’s it. Comparatively, three months paid maternity leave for my coworker is fantastic.

    I agree with you. I would also like to see parents receive longer paid leave for normal family responsibilities. For as much as Republicans/conservatives talk about “family values” they support labor policies that hurt families. Most job/non-discrimination/labor protections have been supported by Democrats (which I’m sure you already know). But in the US, you’re expected to work. There is a HUGE social stigma here for people who either can’t or don’t work. Until that attitude changes we’re not going to see any movement toward healthier, parent-friendly work environments.

  29. Diana,

    I would want to nurse my child in person and not have another person do it for me during the day – even through pumping and bottle feeding. It’s not about the child getting the nutrients (there is equally good formula) it’s about developing a close relationship to your child. And society should support that in my opinion.

    It’s not the work place that pays me when I am on maternal leave, it’s The Swedish Social Insurance Agency (which gets its money from our taxes) – so it’s me and everyone else that works. And we have a limited number of parental leave-days that we can use. I believe the dad also should take out parental leave to become an equally important parent to the child and also have a chance to develop a good relationship. Here the dad usually stays at home for a while after the mom (when the nursing is over). This is equality.

    The huge social stigma not to work in America seems like such a paradox to me. I have several American fiends that have chosen to be stay at home moms. They all feel very fortunate to “be able to do so”. How come that isn’t a social stigma? They don’t work! How come it’s fine and dandy to give up your career and stay at home and let your husband support you for God knows how long? I see huge problems with staying at home for too long: you will have little or no chance of getting back on track with your career since, and you will have earned no pension money which keeps you dependent of your husband forever (and not able to divorce if you would like to).

    To me it’s all about equality. As long as a country is ruled by conservative and religious values there will never be enough progress. It’s sad that more countries haven’t realized this.

  30. Reblogged this on Eurolac! and commented:
    Een re-blogged Engelstalig blog over zwangerschaps en ouderschapsverlof in Noorwegen, afgezet tegen de situatie in de USA. Zeer interessant, ook de discussie in de commentaren!

  31. We are lucky and blessed in Scandinavia. Anyone calling maternity leave a scam or whatever are nothing but jealous. Simple as that 😉

  32. what people from the us, mainly men it seems. dont understand is that in norway we pay insane amounts of tax to get these benefits.. it is not like we are freeloathing, since we have paid for it in advance, and its not like our country spend billions on military bullshit. we love peace, and spend our money on making sure everybody has what they need to make themselves usefull in society, and we give a little extra to make sure those who arent able to also have a desent way of life

    1. Many Norwegians think that paying taxes today entitles you to benefits in the future, that what they pay today is saved up for a rainy day later in life. They could not be any more wrong. What you pay in taxes today, is also spent today, and is in no way a guarantee for future benefits.

      Public spending on the welfare system is a redistribution of wealth. You take Money from those hard working honest people who sell their time and skills to an employer and give it to the sick, disabled und useless who don’t take responsibillity for their own actions. In return they sell you lies and try to convince you that it is for your own benefit, that the government (Esp. AP and their lackey LO) know better than you how you should live Your life.

      The result is that we today have a society where everyone is demanding their rights, but don’t wont any duties or obligations. If they screw up they expect others to clean up after them. A society where nobody want to take responsibility for their actions, as it is more convenient to blame others or the society. This is the kind of mentality one could expect from small children, but not grown ups.

      1. No, that’s the mentality of a country that doesn’t think you should have to call for bankruptcy if you get cancer. It’s the mentality of a country who thinks losing your job shouldn’t mean becoming homeless. It’s the mentality of a country that doesn’t despise people who aren’t the strongest but care and help..

        It’s not like we think we are going to get every penny we pay in taxes back. It’s not a personal savings account. It’s for the whole country. So what if it’s spent? We pay new taxes every month. And since most of us work there is no problem.

        By the way if you get cancer and need very expensive treatment for years or end up breaking you neck in a car accident and end up in a wheel chair and a need for personal assistants around the clock – how do you mean you should take responsibility for your own actions in advance?

      2. So the sick, poor and disabled should be put on the street and die for things that they could not control? Is it your own fault if you are run over by a guy driving drunk, and you get paralyzed? Are you a moocher on society if you get cancer before you build up a savings account? If your parents die when you are a child, are you supposed to fend for yourself?

    2. We actually do spend billions on military bullshit. Usually shit the US has dragged us into. But we, unlike the US, can afford it without borrowing from other countries.

  33. I haven’t seen this angle in any post (but haven’t read all): Just have more people on payroll permanently to cover.

    I am owner/partner and second in command in an IT company with ~35-40 employees. All but one employee are guys. (The sole female is beyond reproductive age.)

    Hiring a “temp” to cover for a guy on parental leave is a no-no, it’s not really feasibly to have a guy replaced by someone for 3-6 months, 3-6 months is how long a person needs to get into the job. So what?

    A major part of our (male) staff are definately reproductive age (25-40). We respect and honour the right to take out (welfare) paid leave, 14 weeks minimum, some guys take more. How we do it? As people said, you have plenty of time to plan. A guy usually takes out his leave when the baby is 6-8 months so you know a year or more in advance. So tasks and responsiblities are shifted to other staffers. And these years, with paternity leaves rolling, we just staff up with 1-2 more people than we “need” (which we DO need now) So, say the paternity leaves taper off, and we are overstaffed? Well, either we will have grown, or we will have to lay off a guy in an orderly and socially responsible fashin. No biggie.

    Rightists seem to think a better(tm) society where people are nice(tm) and trusting, must a lie and a hoax so they curse and spit at everyone who claim to have seen one.

  34. If it is ok to be pregnant in the workplace, a pregnant woman can tell sooner than if it is frowned upon. If her job is at risk she will of course wait as long as possible to tell anyone. So it is easier to plan if you have a positive attitude towards it.

    I pay for the welfare through my taxes. I see it as a far better deal than having to pay insurances from corporations that make a (huge) profit from it (not mentioning all the marketing- and sales-departments they have to pay). I see it as “insurance” that also the sick and the poor benefit from our welfare system. Not only is it a safety net for us all, I also believe it is crime-preventing to have a security for basic needs, health and education. Desperate people tend to turn to desperate measures.

    My employer didn’t get a full refund for my maternity leave, as I make a decent living as a lawyer, and because the negotiated agreements in my sector states that our employer pays us our ordinary salary during parental leaves. Not all sectors have similar agreements, as many employees only get the minimum that is refunded to the employer (low and medium incomes will get full pay under this minimum, while high incomes will not).

    Sure, you can say that Norway is “lucky” to have oil. But it is not “luck” – it’s a result of political priorities – this is a result of social- democratic governments during the decades. Norways right-wing party Fremskrittspartiet proposed when oil was found that the oil-rights should be sold to private companies. Had they had majority at the time, the national oil-resources would have been sold for a joke of a sum, as we would think today. Sweden was invited to take part in the oil-adventure if they traded with Volvo-stocks. They turned the offer down, which seems like a bad deal in retrospect.

    Most oil-producing countries have chosen to let private interests own the resources that social-democrats in Norway saw as a mutual treasure for all the countrys inhabitants. That is a choice you make. Each choice has consequences.

    But the real treasure of Norway is women working. If you count womens contribution to GNP since we struck oil, it is higher than the income from oil. A very welcome bonus is kids getting close relations with their daddies, and daddies with their children. That is something to build future on!

    1. Excellent comments, Liselotte. The next person to repeat that Norway can have a welfare system just because of oil has to explain Sweden.

      I think the Scandinavian model vs the typical US thinking is about whether to optimize for the whole society, or to optimize for individuals. Sounds like communism to some, I guess. 🙂 The point is that if you optimize too locally, you’re missing out on bigger opportunities. That’s true in my profession (software development), and it’s true in any field. For example, low taxes may look optimal for a man with a high-status job and a high income. Then he can choose himself what to spend his money on, instead of the government deciding what he needs, right? It may look so on the surface. But how much freedom does he have, really? He has to spend money on pension funds, health insurance, college funds etc. Can he afford to get seriously ill more than once? Will he get insurance coverage after being diagnosed with something? Can he have as many kids as he wants, or is that a financial decision? Do all his insurances help if the economy plunges and he becomes unemployed? If taking paternal leave is frowned upon at his workplace, can he find a woman who accepts dropping any career opportunities of her own, staying at home with their kids instead? Then, the family has only one income, so the man has to work his ass off to provide for the family, and only comes home at 9pm, hardly seeing his family. And Liselotte makes an excellent point; if there are lots of poor people in the society (arguably created by the economic system), this significantly affects crime rates, which forces the wealthy man to spend lots of money on security. The thing that the US republican will never admit or understand is that although we pay really high taxes here compared to them, we may actually in total spend *less* of our income on these not-so-fun expenses. We don’t have to set aside a single doller to a college fund, and a majority of houses in Norway are not secured with an alarm system. I don’t get to choose which company collects my trash, and I don’t get better treatment from the health care system than any other person who may pay less tax than me, but what I get in return for that “trade” is, for one thing, that I am not surrounded by crackheads living in trailer parks, people who have literally no opportunities or prospects because they grew up in a poor family and went to a lousy public school etc. An individualistic system creates losers; your opportunities are largely decided by the family you’re born into. A system that creates equal opportunities for all means a lot fewer people fall outside of the norm (get your education, find work, stay on the right side of the law). Virtually everyone prefers to work over being unemployed and receiving benefits. Paradoxically, the taxes we pay that finance (among other things) unemployment benefits, result in a society with lower unemployment and higher education level, leading to higher productivity, with fewer unemployed people, and is therefore beneficial also for the tax payers who contribute more than they take out. A win-win. Optimizing for the whole.

      In any case, I would never consider trading the equality and safety we enjoy here for an opportunity to be personally slightly richer by paying less taxes (but then having lots of new financial things I’d have to worry about). It just seems too heartless.

  35. The great irony of all this, is that alot of Norwegian women prefer men from other cultures and nations.

    These are usually attractive young women that can have their pick, they are academics and are ambitious.

    I live in the middle of the trendiest quarter of Grunerløkka and most girls here have a foreign man, usually ranging from French to Australian and even quite a few South Africans to the usual muslim countries.

    In fact there are so many Norwegian women bringing home “expats” that sports that didnt not exists in Norway 10-15 years ago now have several leagues. Australian and English men have buildt up cricket and Rugby leagues with several 1000 members in just a short time.

    Most girls on my facebook are living together with a non-norwegian male.

    This seems to be the story of all the major cities in Norway, I have yet to hear about a Norwegian man bringing home an Australian girl.
    The odd ones out there are the unlucky few that have tot travel to Asia to escape solitude.

    My point is, the culture in the world that treat their women the best has a huge downside, the women are no longer attracted to the empathetic sympathetic man wich is advantegous for her at work and so on, but sexually he is personan non grata and the more outgoing, tougher and violent expat takes his place.

    1. First: I think you should be careful not to say anything bad about men finding wifes in Asia. Some people may claim the same applies to women finding men outside Norway.
      In Norway more women than men take higher education, and more women than men move from the countryside to the bigger cities. Women tend to look for men with at least as high education as themselves, and many men still want to earn at least as much as their spouses. This makes for a surplus of higher educated women in Oslo and other cities.
      My experience both personal and from my friends are that men in the beginning of the thirties with higher education have absolutely no problem at all finding spouses.
      There may of course be some girls who prefer men with another attitude towards women, but I would think they are in minority .

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