On the surface, Sweden appears to be a feminist paradise. Look at any global survey of gender equity and Sweden will be near the top. Family-friendly policies are its norm — with 16 months of paid parental leave, special protections for part-time workers, and state-subsidized preschools where, according to a government website, “gender-awareness education is increasingly common.” Due to an unofficial quota system, women hold 45 percent of positions in the Swedish parliament. They have enjoyed the protection of government agencies with titles like the Ministry of Integration and Gender Equality and the Secretariat of Gender Research. So why are American women so far ahead of their Swedish counterparts in breaking through the glass ceiling?Regardless of what they say, and no matter what their educational level, most women vastly prefer raising children to nearly any other occupation. That's why the most popular professional occupations for women either involve actual child-rearing activities such as teaching and day care or ersatz ones such as social work, human resources, and middle management.
Generous parental leave policies and readily available part-time options have unintended consequences: instead of strengthening women’s attachment to the workplace, they appear to weaken it. In addition to a 16-month leave, a Swedish parent has the right to work six hours a day (for a reduced salary) until his or her child is eight years old. Mothers are far more likely than fathers to take advantage of this law. But extended leaves and part-time employment are known to be harmful to careers — for both genders. And with women a second factor comes into play: most seem to enjoy the flex-time arrangement (once known as the “mommy track”) and never find their way back to full-time or high-level employment. In sum: generous family-friendly policies do keep more women in the labor market, but they also tend to diminish their careers.
According to Blau and Kahn, Swedish-style paternal leave policies and flex-time arrangements pose a second threat to women’s progress: they make employers wary of hiring women for full-time positions at all. Offering a job to a man is the safer bet. He is far less likely to take a year of parental leave and then return on a reduced work schedule for the next eight years.
The reason they choose work over home life is because work pays better. So, the answer is obvious: provide financial incentives to get them on the Mommy track. It may seem unfair - actually, it is unfair - but fairness is a small price to pay for societal sustainability.