Where do American women stand in gender equality?

HARI SREENIVASAN: The World Economic Forum published a report recently that says the United States finishes far from the top of a list when it comes to gender equality. According to the reports, women fared based in Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.  American women finished 23rd on the list of 136 countries. For more perspective earlier I spoke with Kathleen Gerson. She is a Sociology professor at New York University and the author of a book about gender and family titled 'The Unfinished Revolution.'

HARI SREENIVASAN: So what is it about the Scandinavian model, I mean when I rattled off that list of top four; Iceland Finland, Norway, Sweden? What’s working there and what can we learn from that?

KATHLEEN GERSON:  I think that the Nordic model that as it’s called has figured out that there are two important ingredients for creating gender equality, which by the way actually produces greater economic stability and greater overall social health  and those two ingredients are on the one hand notions of equal opportunity and the economy and at work and which Americans would find very little fault with. But the other side of that equation is that they have also supported of notions of family support policies that they want all their families to be healthy, to be economically secure ad to have as many earners as possible and as many caretakers as possible. And so that means that not only that they’ve incorporated women into the workforce, they’ve incorporated men into the home. They have very strong policies that bring men in as fathers and finally they’ve accepted and embraced the notion that families are part of larger communities and god childcare makes it possible for women and men to gain more equality in their lives.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In educational attainment we are tied for first with about 24 other countries but when it comes to the specific measure of healthy life expectancy we are fifty-third. And that’s much lower than one would think living in the US.

KATHLEEN GERSON:  It’s very counterintuitive since we talk all the time about our high life expectancies especially for women. But I think that that the lesson here is we are quite obviously one of the few, the only industrial wealthy country in the world that doesn’t have a national health system, and I think that is showing up in these statistics. That we like to think of ourselves as being one of the healthiest countries on earth but in fact when you put it all together, people at the top may be doing well but we’re not as a country doing that well compared to other societies.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Another one of the categories that they measure is economic participation and opportunity, we ranked sixth overall because we do have leadership positions that are filled by women but we ranked sixty-seventh when it came to wage inequality, and that’s a conversation that has been happening in the US for a long time.

KATHLEEN GERSON:  And there was a moment in time when we focused on affirmative action, getting women into the workplace, but we didn’t focus as much on what happened to them once they got there. So, yes we have some examples of women breaking through the glass ceiling but in many, even among the most highly paid professions, there’s been a re-segregation, so that even in those professions men tend to be doing better than women in the more highly paid positions.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Kathleen Gerson from NYU, thanks so much.

KATHLEEN GERSON:  My pleasure.

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