The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2016

The Topic: Gender Equality and Depression in Sweden

The News Story: Sweden, a Model for Gender Equality, Aims to Make Its Record Even Stronger

The New Research: Gender Equality, a Formula for Mental Illness

 

The News Story: Sweden, a Model for Gender Equality, Aims to Make Its Record Even Stronger

Recently, Sweden’s government unveiled plans to propose legislation requiring that at least 40% of all corporate boards be comprised of women, with punitive fines attached to noncompliance.

The World Politics Review interviewed Ann Numhauser-Henning, a Professor at Lund University, for her take on gender equality in Sweden. Numhauser-Henning said that although gender equality has come a long way, there is still much work to be done. Women tend to choose to work part-time at a greater frequency than do men. “And despite generous and ‘gender-neutral’ parental leave benefits,” Numhauser-Henning reports, “women still make use of about 75 percent of all parental leave days.”

But as laudable as such aims may sound, research reveals that government policies targeted to making men’s and women’s roles completely the same in marriage may have a negative consequence for the children involved.

(Source: The Editors, “Sweden, a Model for Gender Equality, Aims to Make Its Record Even Stronger,” World Politics Review, September 12, 2016)

 

The New Research: Gender Equality, a Formula for Mental Illness

When parents embrace the ideal of gender equality, their children enjoy the best possible mental health. They must. All the progressive commentators say so. Unfortunately, empirical science has just delivered a rude shock to the progressive dreamers, as public-health officials in left-leaning Sweden established that gender equality between parents fosters mental pathology in adolescent children.

This linkage was the last thing the researchers were looking for. Indeed, the researchers began their study with the understanding—fostered by their colleagues’ scholarship—that “gender equality between parents is good for the children.” Their interest was the impact of parental gender equality on the well-being of adolescent females. For as they surveyed professional literature indicating that “females generally suffer more from mental ill-health conditions than males,” the researchers understandably supposed that “the search for explanations should consider the gender system.” 

Their attempt to understand adolescent psychopathology focused on data collected for 54,282 Swedish boys and 51,504 Swedish girls born in 118,595 Swedish homes between 1988 and 1989. The researchers’ concern for the effect of household gender arrangements on young females seems justified, as their data reveal that “girls consume around twice as much outpatient mental care in the ages 13–18 years, and drugs due to anxiety and depression in the ages 17–20 years, than boys.”

To assess the gender equality of these young Swedes’ parents, the researchers examined parental-leave data, discerning “gender equality” in households in which “each parent took at least 40% and at most 60% of the total parental leave” and “gender inequality” in households in which they found “one parent taking less than 20% (and hence the other parent more than 80%) of the parental leave days.”

But the expectation that parental gender equality would foster mental health in children was not borne out by the data. Quite otherwise. When the researchers take the use of psychotropic drugs as their indicator of mental illness, they find—to their surprise—that “girls with very traditional, rather traditional and untraditional parents have lower risks than girls with gender-equal parents.” The problems these findings pose for progressive theorists only grow more acute when the focus shifts to Swedish boys: in data for outpatient care for depression, “boys with very traditional parents are shown to have a 43% lower risk than boys with gender-equal parents.”

It is hard to imagine a more ideologically provocative conclusion than one establishing that parental “gender equality” puts the psychological health of both male and female children at risk. But that is exactly the conclusion that the researchers deliver. Nor is this a conclusion that progressive theorists will easily explain away. Labeling their findings as “robust,” the researchers report that they persist even in sophisticated statistical models that take into account numerous background variables, including household income, parental education, number of siblings, and foreign birth.

Given the explosive and politically incorrect nature of their conclusions, it is entirely predictable that the researchers would “recommend that the study . . . be considered tentative while waiting for support or contradiction in future research.” But only the ideologically reckless will ignore these findings by exposing young people—male or female, Swedish or American—to the dangerous social experiment of so-called gender equality.

(Source: Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson, “New Research,” The Family in America 26.3 [Fall 2011]. Study: Lisa Norström, Lene Lindberg, and Anna Månsdotter, “Could Gender Equality in Parental Leave Harm Off-springs’ Mental Health? A Registry Study of the Swedish Parental/Child Cohort of 1988/89,” International Journal for Equity in Health 11 [March 2012]: 19.)