Failure of the Swedish Model of Family Policy

In an iconic article published a decade ago and entitled, “The Motherhood Experiment,” the New York Times Magazine celebrated Sweden for solving the population and family problems of modern European society. It explained: “Curiously, Europe’s lowest birthrates are seen in countries, mostly Catholic, where the old idea that the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the child-raiser holds strong. . . . Meanwhile, countries that support high numbers of working women, like [the Scandinavian countries], have among the highest birthrates.” The author called this “the fertility paradox.”[1] These arguments actually have an almost religious hold on the social policy architects of the European Union. As Jean-Claude Chesnois summarizes, “in Sweden, . . . empowerment of women insures against a very low birth rate.”[2] With Sweden again in mind, sociologist Peter McDonald asserts that “[i]n a context of high gender equity in individual-oriented institutions, higher gender equity in family-oriented institutions will tend to raise fertility.”[3] J.M. Hoem links Sweden’s success to a “softening” of “the effects of women’s labor force participation on their life sufficiently to reduce the inherent role conflict [relative to motherhood] to a manageable level.”[4] Referring to Sweden, Paul Demeny concludes that “[f]ew social policies enjoy greater unqualified support from demographers and sociologists than those seeking” to make “participation of women in the labor force compatible with raising children.”[5] Of course, the deeper source of anxiety driving these analysts has been the plummeting fertility of the European peoples, a continent-wide development. In the year 2014, the 28 nations of the European Union reported a combined fertility of 1.58 live births per woman, only 75% of the births needed to replace a generation.  Almost all of these nations have recorded declines in numbers over the past decades, with deaths outnumbe
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