When the Left’s Ideas Hurt Women

As my regular readers will note, I give movement conservatives (not classical conservatives) a pretty hard time here. In America, its easy to find major political figures and commentators advocating fairly far right ideas. On the left, not so much in my opinion. In order to accurately critique the left, lets turn our attention to two of the most egalitarian-minded nations: Sweden and France.

The City Journal has a perfect case study of unintended consequences: laws intended to help women can end up holding them back:

Can such [left-wing] family-friendly policies admit more women to the executive suite? Not on the evidence. Consider two countries with some of the most highly touted family policies in the world, the kind that the work/family advocates are always calling for: France and Sweden. Both countries offer generous paid maternity leave and, in Sweden’s case, months of paternity leave as well. Both express commitment to female equality, even using quotas to bring women into powerful political positions; in Sweden, for example, two major parties require women to be 50 percent of their electoral slates. The Swedish parliament has virtual parity between men and women; half of the top ministers, too, are women. In France, women make up only a little over a quarter of parliamentary seats, but shortly after his election, President François Hollande appointed 17 women to serve in his 34-seat cabinet. A quota law passed in 2010, and under consideration by the European Union as a whole, has tripled the percentage of women on corporate boards.

Yet the top of the private economy in both countries remains an alpha-male preserve. At none of the 40 big companies listed in France’s CAC 40 stock-market index does a woman sit in the CEO’s office. TheLawyerreports that more than half of the associates at large French law firms are female—yet women are still only half as likely as men to be partners. There are only ten female presidents at the country’s 87 universities. In Sweden, so few women are in the top ranks in the private sphere that labor economists have been scratching their heads.

The conclusion that a number of them have reached provides a textbook case of unintended consequences: the very family policies that make it easier for women to combine work and family discourage them from pursuing career Olympus. In a paper called “Is There a Glass Ceiling in Sweden?,” James Albrecht and colleagues speculate that the country’s maternal benefits are so generous that they “may discourage strong career commitment” by women. The paper also points out that Sweden’s liberal wage policies, elevating incomes at the bottom of society, make it prohibitively expensive for many ambitious mothers—and mothers still do most of the child care, even in Sweden—to hire outside help during hours when day-care centers are closed. In many countries, including the United States, professional-class dual-income families have become dependent on cheap immigrant labor to mind the kids and clean the house; researchers Patricia Cortés and José Tessada trace the increase in the work hours of highly educated American women to the 1990s, when immigration pushed down the cost of household services. The Swedish welfare state may reduce income inequality, but one consequence may be fewer women at the top.

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