Research from Sweden has shown that egalitarian societies also suffer from greater rates of poor health than non-egalitarian societies.
The study, published in Social Science and Medicine, compared data from all of Sweden’s 290 municipalities. They used nine indicators of equality in both the private and public sectors, ranging from the proportion of men and women in management jobs to average income. These were related to local life expectancy, disability and absence from work through illness. The results showed a strong link between gender equality and levels of sickness and disability for both men and women. One of the findings was that equal financial resources between the sexes was associated with higher levels of sickness and disability.
Further contextualisation is useful however. We’re talking about societies which have provided public rather than private equality. That is women are able to join men in the patriarchal, capitalist driven notions of civil and public society – the equality to work long hours, to place profit above society and so forth. And patriarchy and capitalism has exploited this – many couples now need two wage-earners to financially stand-still and succes is still measured in financial terms. After all when was the last time you heard someone “successful” compare the happiness of their child rather than the size of their pay packet or perceived status of their latest purchase? Indeed, despite the newspaper headlines of “Feminism Makes You Sick” (very witty guys) the report even flags up that this unequal equality is the problem.
Sweden may have reached a critical point where further one- sided expansion by women into traditionally male roles, spheres and activities will not lead to positive health effects unless men also significantly alter their behaviour. Negative effects of this unfinished equality might be found both for women, who have become more burdened, and men, who as a group have lost many of their old privileges.”
Thankfully Civitas was on-hand to make the same points:
Anastasia de Waal, head of family policy at the think-tank Civitas, urged caution in interpreting the findings: “The danger is that the data will be interpreted as a warning against shaking up divisions of labour. In fact what Sweden needs is complete gender equality with, for example, men entering the private sphere to the extent that women have entered the public.”
Unfortunately, without rather more radical social change such equality may never come about – it is financially impossible for most couples to retire one partner (male or female) from work. The situation working class families have almost always faced (in needing two or more incomes) has been expanded to the previously affluent classes of society with the problem that it is even harder to value and facilitate private equality.