Gender equality is both a fundamental human right and a key driver of inclusive growth. Over the past five years, OECD countries have made some progress in getting closer to gender equality goals. The 2013 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship followed in 2015 by the OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life have provided clear and actionable guidelines to support these efforts. However, gender gaps persist in all areas of social and economic life, as the 2017 OECD report The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, showed.

The Nordic countries – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden – have moved further along the path to gender equality than most OECD countries. This report provides ample evidence that increases in women’s economic participation in the Nordic countries have greatly benefited economic growth. Indeed, in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, increases in women’s employment alone accounted for the equivalent of about 10-20% of average annual GDP per capita growth over the past 40-50 years.

The striking feature of the Nordic countries is that they managed to increase and/or sustain female employment rates that were already high even as early as the early-1970s. The long-standing commitment to gender equality at work in Nordic countries has yielded results. Today, gender employment gaps in the Nordic countries are among the OECD’s lowest and couples tend to share paid and unpaid work more equally than in most other OECD countries.

The design of gender and work-life balance policies in individual Nordic countries may vary, but they are united by a common policy objective to engage men and women equally in the labour market. With the launch of their initiative Nordic Solutions to Global Challenges in 2017, the five Nordic Prime Ministers expressed their commitment to close gender gaps at home and to share the region’s experiences in investing in gender equality and generous work-life policies, which contributed to the development of this report.

Nordic countries are closer to eliminating gender labour market gaps than most, but closing completely the stubborn gaps that remain in areas such as pay and representation in management positions may well turn out to be a difficult challenge. Completing “the last mile” on the path to gender equality would not only bring further economic and social gains to the Nordic countries but also provide important lessons for policy development across the OECD and beyond.


Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD


Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary-General of the Nordic Council of Ministers