Policy Fact Series, No. 7: Flexible norms, balanced lifestyles

The Economist cites a study about the difference between female and male desires for success. As equality of opportunity has increased for females, more women are now in full time employment than ever before. However, only 5% of the bosses of the largest American firms are female. Only 20 heads of national governments are. So why could this be? This particular study finds that women simply do not prioritise a high paying job over all the other things they want to achieve such as raising a family and being fit. The Economist rightly points out that this is a politically incorrect statement – groups indifferent towards creating equality of opportunity could easily use this discourse as a way to explain the lower number of women in executive positions. This is exactly why Econ+ feels the need to discuss it – the world needs to start thinking outside of the box when it comes to policymaking, development and societal structures.


This is especially interesting if linked to the current shift towards a 6-hour workday in Sweden. A movement that is sweeping across the public and private sectors, showing (for now) how people actually work more efficiently if they know they have less hours stuck on their bottoms in an office. The (lucky) employees now have more time to pick up sports and take care of their children, etc. Although it is still early days, studies have shown that reduced working weeks lead to better physical and mental health. This in turn would reduce health costs.


Another movement in Denmark, called B Society, is advocating for more flexible work schedules. Their assumption is that everyone has different sleep cycles, which means our routine of 9 to 5 can be physically harmful to the majority of us. In fact, the norm of an early start harms the people who work more productively later in the day. Higher productivity could thus be achieved by only shifting some people’s work schedules by an hour a day. How hard could that really be to change?

Thus, if we combine these separate stories what we could conclude is not that women will never be able to be in the top jobs due to lack of will, but that the current structure of employment could be changed to bring about higher levels of wellbeing. This kind of thinking outside of the existing structure would do a world of good in policymaking. What do you think?

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