Gender equality in Stockholm: What’s in it for men?

From better health to financial profitability, both men and women have much to gain from a more level playing field.

Gender equality in Stockholm: What’s in it for men?
Karin Enge Vivar/Folio/

Gender equality means what it says on the tin. It isn’t just the ongoing fight for women’s rights, it’s about guaranteeing safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives for everyone — men included.

Identifying and removing gender barriers is the first hurdle to jump on the road to equality. Gender stereotypes can shape the course of a child’s life, influencing later career decisions and, in some instances prove deadly, says psychology researcher Joshua Juvrud.

“Masculinity is defined by characteristics which serve as rules for how men should act and think,” explains Juvrud, who is soon to complete his PhD in social psychology at Uppsala University.

“This idea of traditional masculinity promotes a sense of autonomy and a desire to maintain emotional control. This leads to concealing vulnerability and ultimately can result in negative health-seeking behaviours.”

Find out why Stockholm has declared itself 'A Woman's Place'

According to Juvrud, who is originally from the United States, “masculinity is a barrier” that leads to men bottling up emotions and an unwillingness to seek professional help for worrisome physical symptoms.

“One thing we often forget is that our gender is something we perform. So for men, that means being tough, strong, containing emotions, being self-reliant, and so on.”

Breaking down harmful gender stereotypes, he says, is the first step to dispelling the notion that ‘real men’ don’t ask for help, potentially saving millions of lives.

But how do you reverse stereotypes that have been around for generations? The answer could be as simple as encouraging dads to spend more time with their young children.

Juvrud refers to a study conducted at Uppsala University that looked at the distribution of parental leave to care for infants aged 10-16 months old. All of the infants started with the mother before half transitioned to the father.

“We know that typically infants are really good at recognising female faces. There has always been a debate questioning whether or not this ability is innate. From our study, we found that infants who spent time with the father became equally as good at recognising male faces.”

He says that the study demonstrated having a father present positively affects the development of a child in its first year. This involvement impacts the child’s perception of the social world and can go on to form the basis for later associations and stereotypes.

Better for everyone

“It’s unambiguously good for the whole family for men to be around,” believes Erik Angner, a Philosophy professor at Stockholm University. “You can be with your baby which is good for them, and you can divide the labour with your partner.”

Erik with his twin daughters.

In Sweden, where measures like subsidised daycare enable mothers to return to the workforce, it also eases the financial pressure from men who otherwise become the sole breadwinner following the birth of a child.

“People often talk about the trap for women where someone has to quit to stay home to take care of the kids. It’s often the parent who makes less money, which is usually the mother,” says Erik, who is Swedish but spent two decades living in the United States.

He adds that this is damaging for women who fall out of the loop and find it harder to get back into the labour force. However, he says, there is a similar and less discussed trap for men.

“In some cases, you have to take on extra duties to make up for the loss of income, which means you see your kids even less than you would have otherwise.”

Not only does this lead to increased stress, which can be both physically and mentally debilitating for men, but businesses also suffer when women have to take time out to raise a family. Aside from benefits such as widening the talent pool, it’s also financially profitable to have more diversity in the workforce.

Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in their executive teams are 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile, McKinsey found in its 2017 Delivering growth through diversity report. What’s more, for every 10 percent improvement in gender diversity, comes a 2-4 percent increase in overall profits.

Change takes time

Programmer Patrik Svensson is one Swede who unwaveringly appreciates the increased gender equality in Stockholm. 

He relishes the nine months he spent at home caring for his daughter. The financial burden was also lessened as both he and his wife, who works as a teacher, could continue contributing to the household.

Patrik with his wife and daughter.

Patrik knows how lucky he has it, in part, he explains, because it was totally different for his parents’ generation.

“It was very traditional. I grew up in a household with my father working and my mother staying at home,” he recalls.

Societal norms have shifted dramatically since then and a generation later it’s standard for both men and women in Sweden to take time off from work to care for their young children.

But this change in attitude didn’t come about organically. Since ‘maternity leave’ became ‘parental leave’ in 1975, there has been a collective push to redefine gender stereotypes.

Erik recalls a 1978 campaign featuring Swedish wrestler Lennart “Hoa-Hoa” Dahlgren holding a young baby, an early attempt by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency to encourage more men to take parental leave. 

“He was pictured with these enormous muscles holding a tiny baby, signalling it’s a manly thing to spend time with your child,” he describes.

While the campaign may have verged on the absurd at the time, messages like these gradually began to take effect and, in 2017, 27 percent of all parental leave benefit was paid out to men. This has vastly increased even since 1999 when the same figure was just 12 percent.

But here’s the clincher. It turns out men are actually biologically hardwired to care for their babies, and probably always have been.

Find out why Stockholm has declared itself 'A Woman's Place'

Research has shown that once men become fathers their hormones completely change. There’s a significant drop in testosterone, while their oxytocin level, otherwise known as ‘the cuddle hormone’, doubles as soon as the woman becomes pregnant.

“It’s really interesting because as a culture and society we tie this idea of testosterone to masculinity, but it’s not reflective even of our biology. It doesn’t make sense for fathers not to be involved with their children early on when biologically they are prepared for it,” says Juvrud.

A knock-on effect of less paternal involvement is the perception that men are inept at caring for their young children. It’s an opinion Erik would encounter often living in the States, usually pertaining to his toddler’s eclectic outfits.

“She developed very strong opinions about what clothes to wear so we let her dress herself,” he recalls.

At the time, Erik and his wife were living in the United States where he was working as an associate professor. Each morning, he would push his daughter in her stroller to the daycare on campus while he prepared himself for passersby to make the same familiar comment. 

“Certainly every week someone would look at her and then at me and say, ‘I guess dad dressed you today, huh?’”

The implication was that, as a man, Erik wasn’t up to the task of dressing his daughter. And the comments didn’t stop once he’d dropped her at daycare. Spotting the empty stroller, someone would inevitably quip that he must have lost the baby.

It’s remarks like these that Erik doesn’t have to brush off now that he’s living in Stockholm. 

“Often I show up to the office here with a pacifier in my pocket. I’ll whip it out in the fika room and no-one bats an eyelid, it’s not strange here for a guy to do that.”

He adds that encountering this kind of stereotype as a man is not the end of the world, but there's a sense in which the idea that men are unable to care for children is the same stereotype that says women can't drive or focus on work once they become mothers.

He really notices the difference now that he's back in Stockholm where it’s not frowned on, or seen as ‘unmanly’, for dads to stay at home with their young children. In fact, it’s encouraged, with 480 days of paid parental leave to split between both parents.

Workers are not guaranteed paid family leave in the United States, instead, explains Erik, each person is free to negotiate their own solution.

“In theory, that’s great both for the employee and the employer because it sounds like freedom. But in reality, it’s extremely hard to negotiate these things.”

He recalls broaching the subject with a former boss when his eldest daughter was born. Following Erik’s “pitch”, the boss simply looked at him and laughed.

“That was the end of the conversation,” he sighs.

Find out why Stockholm has declared itself 'A Woman's Place'

For Erik, what was non-negotiable was being unable to share what he describes as “the burdens and joys” of parenthood. He believes that the chance for a man to bond with his child is not something to be passed up.

Joshua Juvrud plans to apply for his Swedish citizenship.

It’s among the reasons, Juvrud, who moved to Sweden five years ago, has chosen to apply for his Swedish citizenship.

“Being able to invest in my child is extremely appealing and now I can’t imagine not having that kind of opportunity,” he says.

For the American academic, parental leave isn’t the only bonus of gender equality in Stockholm. From family life and work to dating (“the man isn’t always expected to pay”) and even interacting with friends, he believes he benefits daily from living in a city where men and women are on equal footing. 

“In Stockholm, there is less ‘toxic masculinity’. There’s much less pressure on men in every sense and I think a big part of that is the gender equality here.”

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Invest Stockholm.

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EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned on Wednesday that rising interest rates could lead to house prices falling "quite sharply". How likely is it that this will happen?

EXPLAINED: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

What financial circumstances might make it difficult for borrowers to repay loans?

With an increase in the cost of living, including rising interest rates and rising electricity prices, there are plenty of circumstances that may make it difficult for borrowers – especially those holding large debts in relation to their income – to repay their mortgages.

Households with large debts are therefore more sensitive to an increase in interest rates, according to the Swedish financial supervisory authority, known in Swedish as Finansinspektionen (FI).

The agency published its annual Swedish Mortgage Market report on Wednesday.

“Large debts also mean a higher sensitivity if you were to suffer unemployment during an extensive recession,” said Henrik Braconier, the authority’s chief economist.

Other factors that could stretch borrowers’ finances include rising energy prices, higher food prices, and growing inflation.

“Apples, oranges, tomatoes have gone up by 30 percent,” said Américo Fernández, a household economist at SEB. “Wheat is coming from Ukraine and it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of.”


Will homeowners become unable to repay their mortgage loans?

Not according to Fernández.

“One of the last things Swedish households will fail to make their payments on is their mortgage and their houses,” he said. “They would rather decrease their spending on vacations abroad, or restaurants.”

The FI report noted that most new mortgages include margins that allow for fluctuations in the borrower’s finances. This means that mortgage holders have a cushion that allows them to handle financial changes.

“Our stress test shows that they can handle increases in the interest rate and also loss of income,” said Magnus Karlsson, FI’s director of macroanalysis. “New mortgages have margins in them calculating discretionary income, and will be able to absorb increases in interest rates and loss of income.”

SEB foresees an interest rise of up to three percent over the next two years, Fernández said,an increase that can be absorbed by most households.

Both Fernández and Karlsson agreed that if homeowners have to cut back on spending, those cuts will not come from debt repayment, but from their disposable income – the money they might ordinarily spend on entertainment, eating out, or travelling.

So while household spending may have to change, financial stability is not at stake for most households.

What’s going on with the housing market?

Right now, a record number of mortgage-holders have loans that are worth more than 4.5 times their income. This year, more than 14 percent of new mortgagors took on such large loans, compared to 6.3 percent last year.

A “low interest rate, increase in housing prices, increase in disposable real income and a housing market that is not functioning well” are all factors in the large debts that homeowners have incurred today, Karlsson argued.

Fernández noted that there is an imbalance between the low supply of housing and the high demand for housing, which is in part responsible for the high housing prices we see today.

He said a decrease in price of a few percentage points would not be surprising: “We’re coming from two years of exaggerated prices.”

Will housing prices begin to decrease after two years of increasing prices?

Calculations for three different scenarios tested by FI show that housing prices will decrease, Karlsson said.

While the agency does not predict housing prices, its report shows that under three different scenarios – the first an increase in mortgage interest rate, the second an increase in energy prices, and the third a combination of the first two with a reversal to pre-pandemic housing preferences – prices will decrease.

The Local Sweden reported last year about increasing housing costs in Sweden, spurred on in part by a desire for bigger homes further away from urban areas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fernández called the two years of increasing housing costs “surprising.”

“10-12 percent two years in a row, that’s historical in these uncertain times,” he said, noting that prices were still increasing in figures for March this year.

What sorts of housing will see the largest price decrease?

The FI report also included various scenarios of how the price of different types of housing may fluctuate based on changes in the interest rate.

One scenario assumed a 1 percent increase in interest rates this year and a 0.5 percent increase next year, and predicted that while the price of apartments owned in a cooperative – called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, the price of detached houses would fall by 10 percent.

Another calculation that accounted for rising electricity prices and a decline in new housing purchases found that the price of bostadsrätter and detached houses risked falling by an average of 30 percent.

Is there a plan to let borrowers end their mortgage terms early?

“We believe it needs to be simpler and more inexpensive for households to repay their mortgages early,” FI Director General Erik Thedéen is quoted as saying in a press release published by the agency on Wednesday.

To that end, Thedéen said at a press conference that the agency had sent a request to the government to change the calculation model for how banks are compensated when mortgages are terminated early.

“When you terminate a loan agreement and the bank incurs costs, it must be reimbursed,” Thedéen said. “But at present the banks are overcompensated, that is what our calculations show. If the government follows our line and changes the model and follows our line, then the banks must simply adapt.”

When asked about the likelihood of this request being granted, FI recommended reaching out to the Ministry of Justice for comment.

What does this mean for foreigners in Sweden?

If you’re already a mortgage holder, then as Karlsson and Fernández assured, mortgage calculations include a cushion that allow for changes in your financial circumstances.

If homeownership is in your future, housing prices may begin to decrease in the near future, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your local real estate listings.

By Shandana Mufti