For the third year in a row, Norway has won the accolade of best place in the world to be a mother, according to a report by Save the Children that looks at factors such as mother’s health, education, and economic status, as well as children’s health and nutrition.
Not surprisingly, Nordic neighbors Iceland and Sweden are to be found in the top five as well. That’s probably because of the generous maternity leave system (one year paid in most cases), abundant and low-cost child-care run by the public sector, and very understanding employers in these socialist welfare model countries.
But is it really so great to be a mom in Norway?
After having been one on both sides of the Atlantic, I am not so sure. First, more Norwegian women are in the workforce during a child’s early years.
Two out of three women are employed in Norway compared with 46.7 percent in the US, according to data from Statistics Norway and Catalyst respectively. And only about 56 percent of all US mothers with children under the age of 1 were in the labor force. In Norway, many more moms go back to work, partly because employers have a flexible scheme that lets workers return back to work part-time and extend their maternity leave pay up to two years. Plus it also only costs about $400 a month for full-time day care from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., summer months included.
Norway touts the high percentage of women in the workforce as a good thing. But those who would like to raise their child at home instead of day care are sometimes criticized for not “integrating” their child into Norwegian society. The Norwegian government recently cut the cash-support scheme “kontantstøtte” for parents of two-year-olds to encourage more day care use. Under the old scheme, Norwegians were actually paid to stay home with their toddler, on top of their maternity pay, to help free up spots for those that wanted to use the day care centers.
As of 2010, 89.3 percent of parents had day-care spots, so the scheme became unnecessary.
There is also an expectation that all mothers should go back to work since there is such an efficient and affordable system in place to take care of children. Here, there is more pressure to have a job to go back to after maternity leave, whereas in the US you would be criticized for prioritizing your career ahead of your child’s early formative years.
I personally know of only two stay-at-home moms in my son’s elementary class in Oslo, whereas in my old neighborhood in a New York suburb the stay-at-home moms were the majority, and those who took the train into the City were the selfish mommies.
This is not to say that the US should be the role model. The country actually came 25th on State of the World’s Mothers Report, falling well below most wealthy nations, according to Carolyn Miles, Save the Children president.
“A woman in the US is more than 7 times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime than a woman in Italy or Ireland,” said Ms. Miles. “When it comes to the number of children enrolled in preschools or the political status of women, the United States also places in the bottom 10 countries of the developed world.”
Well, maybe it’s not so bad here after all.
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