Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Copenhagen — The Nordic countries have grown considerably richer thanks to decades of policies designed to improve gender equality, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The region, which consistently tops world happiness indices, has spent the past 50 years bringing more women into the workforce in a shift that has added as much as 20% to economic growth per capita, the OECD said in a study published this week. The Paris-based organisation says continued progress on gender equality in the labour market could add up to 30% to economic growth rates by 2040.

"The Nordic countries are an inspiration," Ángel Gurría, secretary general of the OECD, said in prepared comments. He pointed to structures designed to support families as being key.

"Nordic countries provide a continuum of support to families with children, consisting of generous paid leave for new parents; subsidised and high-quality early childhood education and care; and out-of-school-hours care."

Female employment rates in the Nordic region range from 68% to 83%, according to the study. This compares with an OECD average of 59%. Higher Nordic employment rates follow official steps in the region to punish discrimination; for example, it’s illegal to fire women after they have children.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that people living in the Nordic region, where schools and healthcare are free and parental-leave packages generous, are among the world’s happiest. Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland took the top spots in the 2018 World Happiness Report, with Sweden occupying ninth place.