Swedish Gender Equality Defined Poorly by Statistics Sweden

In highlighting 30 years of gender progress, a recent Swedish government report states that gender equality gaps are closing (Statistics Sweden, 2014).

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Although this report is very useful and helps to shed light on important factors for women/mothers and men/fathers regarding gender equality in the home, childcare, and workplace, the report focuses on gender equality mainly in terms of the amount of time women/mothers and men/fathers spend in doing something (e.g. work, housework, childcare).

This post will point out the major flaws in defining “gender equality” the way this report does.

For example, the report says the gender gap is closing regarding housework (after all it’s listed under the headline “Gender Equality Since the 1980s” on page 4). But on page 5, they start going deeper saying  that women have reduced their amount of unpaid work by one hour, while men have increased their amount of unpaid work by only eight minutes since 1990.

In other words, gender equality is being achieved just because women are doing less around the house. Thank you dishwasher for making my house more gender equal. Thank you maid for making us a gender equal family. Thank you childcare worker for watching our kids all day and night, and thus, we both spend an equal amount of time with our kids. Hypothetically this could mean that parents spend 0 hours per week doing housework, childcare, etc to reach “gender equality”.

Obviously that last example wouldn’t happen–but defining gender equality this way allows for that interpretation if it did happen. Focusing on the amount of time someone spends doing something is a horrible way to judge equality.

Two definitions (among many others) would be to focus on productivity and/or the intensity/amount of labor it takes to complete a task.

1) Being Productive: If one person diddle-daddles around the house while cleaning, they all of a sudden, get more points for the amount of housework completed, compared to the efficient houseworker???

2) Intensity:  Putting away dishes is a daily chore, but low-intensity. Pulling weeds is a weekly chore, but high intensity. (Substitute weed pulling for raking leaves or snow shoveling, depending on the season).

It’s not fair to judge women and men based on how much time they spend doing chores, especially if they also don’t consider the productivity of the worker or the intensity of the chore.

The Swedish government, which prides itself on achieving gender equality needs to do a better job of more accurately defining this important term. Otherwise, the outcomes are biased and therefore not as untrustworthy.

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