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Editorial: The part time debate needs broadening

| By Björn Lindahl, acting editor in chief

Part time work is one of the most important issues in the Nordic gender equality debate. The gap might be narrowing, but women still work more part time than men. This is a question of money, culture and morals, but where lecturing might not be the best tool if you want to change things.

Sweden’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers has made part time work a priority issue. It has taken the shape of a two-stage rocket; the first stage was a comparative study of how the Nordic pension systems work. It would map the consequences for women who choose to work part time for periods of their working lives. 

When the report was presented during a Stockholm conference hosted by NIKK (Nordic Information on Gender) the result was surprising: in Denmark and Norway the effect is small, because the pension systems have been changed so that wage earners with no children subsidise part time working women’s pensions. They get 98 to 99 percent of the pension they would have had if they had stayed in full time employment. In the other Nordic countries, where no such subsidy system exists, the effect was no larger than a six percent fall in pension pay. 

But we shouldn’t conclude that the challenges of part time work have gone away. The only thing this report shows is that it is not the pension system that needs changing — at least not in Denmark and Norway. Part time work has many other consequences, including the fact that part time workers are less likely to take further education compared to people working full time. That means they fall behind on pay and as a result get lower pensions.

In 2013 Swedish women will take home a pension which is only 65 percent that of men, and the situation is similar in the other Nordic countries.

The second stage seeks to find out why women work part time. That task went to Oslo’s Work Research Institute, which presents its result on 5 November next year when Iceland takes on the Presidency of the Council of Ministers.

Some of the dilemmas women face are highlighted in our story about a part time working pre-school teacher in Denmark, Dorte Nielsen. She chose to reduce her working week from 37 to 30 hours to have the energy to stay in her job. But the resulting tight personal economy forced her and her husband to take on a Sunday cleaning job. 

It might seem paradoxical to take on an extra job in order to not have to work full time. But it was a job she did alongside her husband and in a different environment from the pre-school.

It is one example that reality is always more complex than the examples which researchers must use in order to make their comparisons. 

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