The Welfare State and Gender: Equality or Disparity? A comparison of Scandinavian, Conservative and Southern Model

The Welfare State and Gender: Equality or Disparity? A comparison of Scandinavian, Conservative and Southern Model

Priyanka Rane

SSIS Batch 2020-233

30 October 2021

Welfare States protect the wellbeing of the citizens, reduces socio-economic inequalities, includes provision of basic education, health services and other social facilities. The European welfare states focus on thriving economy, creating livable and trustworthy societies, eradicating gender inequality through their effective form of governance and social policies. Since the great recession, there is major emphasis on literature that focuses on the welfare regime policies in developed European countries. The most common typology of welfare state was proposed by Esping-Anderson (1990). He identified three regimes of welfare state which is liberal regime, conservative regime and social democratic regime.

The Welfare State in Europe is classified into different categories including the Scandinavian Model, Conservative Model, Southern Model and the Anglo-Saxon or Liberal Model.

Classification of Welfare States:

Welfare State Model


Social Security


Poverty/ Inequality

  1. Scandinavian Model



High female employment


  1. Conservative Model


Earnings – related.

Low female employment, with benefits provided to mothers encouraging them to be at home


  1. Southern Model


Family centered

Low female unemployment with no benefits


  1. Anglo – Saxon or Liberal Model


No preferential treatment

High part-time employment for women, with limited opportunities for full-time employment



 The Welfare states and social policies have affected women’s influence in labour markets and on their demands for real wages and equal pension opportunities. The study is based upon maternal and paternal leave and unemployment issues. The purpose of this study is to explore connections between welfare state regimes and gender in advanced European countries. The article will examine the social policies of the three models of welfare states which are Scandinavian, Conservative and Southern model through the gender lens and will substantiate the outcome by analyzing three model representative countries which are Sweden, France and Spain.

The comparison between these three European Welfare States (Sweden, France and Spain) will evaluate the different gender relevant social policies affecting women’s stake in the labor market. Welfare State policies also affects women’s role and outcomes based on their ability to enter the paid labor and at the same time also by performing duties such as caretaking and managing the household. The article will assess if the case studies differ around any specific gender dimension including maternal or paternal leaves, pension and unemployment.

My research question hopes to uncover the major differences in the aforementioned models of the welfare states leading to the gender gap by analyzing the welfare state characteristics and functionalities of the representative model countries.

Scandinavian Model:  Sweden

Sweden is a social democratic welfare state: state intervention modifies the market with a high degree of labor market regulation, full employment is guaranteed and universal social rights are catered to the middle class (Esping-Andersen, 1990).The state intervenes directly into welfare resources as the citizenship and employment are the primary means to the entitlement of benefits and services. The Swedish welfare system combines universal entitlements with additional high earnings-graduated benefits to bring about “a universalism of ‘middle-class standards’” (Esping-Andersen 1990). During the 1970s, the Swedish government implemented policy changes supporting the dual earner dual career model. This policy facilitated gender equality in Sweden providing equal opportunities for both men and women in the work force.


The policy logic of social democracies like Sweden are characterised around four modifications: policy is designed  to boost job opportunities of underprivileged groups within the labor market; public services are widespread and given as a social right instead of the commodities purchased within the market; social rights are citizenship-based instead of work-based to limit the influence of market inequalities and ensuing social stratification; and funding of advantages and services is through individual contributions of the insured. The Swedish welfare state follows the principle of egalitarianism and promotes full employment opportunities for its population in both public and private sector. It also plays an active role in social services reproduction to maximise benefits for women and men in labor market with equal wages opportunity.


The Swedish welfare state supports high levels of gender segregation and part time employment in the labor market. This high levelled gender segregation has resulted into a woman dominated public sector and highly paid male dominated private sector. In the global gender pay gap survey by the World Economic Forum every year, Sweden has always ranked between first to fifth since 2006. Women’s average monthly salary were 90.2 % of men’s in 2020.In 2020, the unemployment rate in Sweden was 8.3% (OECD, 2020) for both men and women.

The overarching Swedish principle of gender equality allows one the right to work, support themselves and their family by maintaining a balance in life. In 1974, Sweden was the first country to announce the Parental Insurance Act which covered parental leaves alongside the gender specific maternal leaves. When a child is born, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leaves. In Sweden, Parental leave is flexible until the child turns 8, which covers both part-time and full-time employment. There are a few disadvantages that women face in the labour market in spite of the numerous policies supporting gender equality.The arrangement in income replacements rates for women who qualify for work-related parental allowances creates a gender disparity in benefits because women generally earn less than fathers and typically take the longer duration of parental leave (Sainsbury 1999).

The Swedish pension system being universal is based on work entitlement and hence it is characterized as dual earner dual career gender model. Sweden pension system is universal as it offers access to pension through citizenship, which tends to impact the gender equality in pension system in terms of benefits. According to March 2020 OECD report, the gender pension gap in Sweden in less than 30%. The gender pension gap is still large comparing with other Scandinavian countries.

Considering the Swedish case, the Scandinavian model supports women’s stake in both family and labour market. Although, there are a few disparities in pension policies which needs to be revamped.


Conservative Model: France


France is a conservative welfare state: France’s current welfare state known as la Securite sociale, came into being after the second world war. The fundamentals of the system focus on the protection of the four important sectors of the society: the incapacitated or sick, the unemployed, the elderly and the families.France relies on many legislative texts and policy tools to implement its policy on gender equality in various fields. In 2012, the new Socialist Party government adopted to appoint the Minister for Women's Rights (instead of the Vice Minister), initiated a series of important laws and renewed efforts to apply the gender perspective in Public administration through better training of public officials and better integrate gender equality in all public policy areas.  Policy participants increasingly consider gender mainstreaming and gender budgetingas important tools of policies through financing the use of changes in the behavior of social participants, that ispublic financing for the evaluation of gender impact and non-stereotyped gender projects.


The gender equality policy has been specially formulated and has achieved the participation of women in decision-making. In the area of ​​work and family life coordination, gender equality policies have not been as successful, especially since they tend to target mothers more than fathers. However, the current policy provides French women with the possibility of reconciling work and family life. The Real Gender Equality Act of 2014 amended the parental leave policy to encourage parents to take leave.  In the field of employment, due to the continuous lack of awareness and willingness of in the private sector, the voluntary plan for equal treatment of men and women has been hindered for a long time. This situation has led to the gradual strengthening of legal requirements, and in 2010 a sanction mechanism was established for companies that did not adopt the gender equality plan for the first time. However, even this measure may not be effective because gender-neutral employment or pension policies continue to reproduce gender inequality, occupational gender segregation, and marginalization of women, especially at the beginning and end of your working life.

The employment-related gender equality policy has been in place since 1983, but due to the lack of interest and commitment of the various participants in the commercial sector of, the result of is very poor. Although the employment rate for women is acceptable than other countries in the European Union, another of its characteristics is that the part-time employment rate is as high especially in low-skilled, low-income economic sectors. The two third of the lowest paid workers include women in France. There is high level of gender occupational segregation. In the employment sector, the employment rate for women in 2018 was 7% lower than that of men. French employment system is based upon supported contracts or reinsertion contracts. Although, women are benefitted largely due to such contracts. In 2020, the unemployment rate in France was 8.1 and 8.0 for men and women respectively.

The prospective analysis shows that although the number of women participating in the labor market has increased, the average pension rate between women and men will stabilize at around 60%, reflecting a significant and persistent gender gap. There are many reasons why such a significant gender gap persists: women's earnings are still lower than men’s, working time, occupation and pension payments are relatively short, especially after having children. Maternity leave in France is entitled for 16 weeks out which 6 needs to be taken before the child birth.  Maternity leave in France is fully paid up to three months. Paternity leave includes consecutive days leave for a single child.

The persisting disparities in French welfare state signify that adequate measure needs to be implemented to fill the existing gender gap. The Conservative model should also focus on centralized form of spending on social services other than local levels.

Southern Model: Spain

Spain is a southern welfare state in Europe. Spain had formed a despotic- corporatist welfare regime during the Franco period. This was a measure to strengthen the traditional family. Spain supported patriarchal values which led to financial support for the married, especially for the women who did not work. The basis of entitlement was created such that women should sit at home and take care of children as women were considered subordinate to men.  In early 1980s, after the fall of dictatorship, formed a blue print for Spanish welfare state by mixing the Bismarck and Beveridge models which reflects even today in current welfare state. Since the 1980s, the welfare state in Spain has provided benefits such as funding, housing, health care and social services. The state also provided earnings related incentives such as for retirements, sickness and for the widows. During this period, 90% contribution use to come from general regime, which covered two-third social securities.


From the 1980s to 2008, the gender equality policy in Spain showed a positive development path. Political institutions for gender equality were institutionalized at the central and regional levels, and gender equality policies were adopted through plans and laws. Gender equality has become a priority on the government's agenda, especially in the years leading up to the economic crisis of 2004-2010, demonstrating that important laws were passed to regulate gender-based violence, employment equality, political and economic decision-making rights. However, Spanish gender equality policies and institutions from 2009 to 2016 have gradually collapsed and are currently being threatened by Spain's austerity policies in response to the 2008 economic crisis. Strong opposition unleashed by austerity policies shows that gender equality policies lack priority in the context of conflicting economic priorities. Although Spain is authorized to support gender mainstreaming strategies through central and regional legal authorizations, gender mainstreaming has not yet been included in the political reforms adopted in response to the economic crisis. In this context of strong opposition, the future of gender equality policy in Spain seems extremely uncertain. Hence, the current Spanish welfare state is dynamic in nature.


The rate of gender employment worsened in Spain after 2008 crisis. The rate of women employment is less than male employment in Spain. In 2020, the unemployment rate was 13.9 and 17.4 for men and women respectively. An interesting fact about gender equality is that, despite rising unemployment and deteriorating labor market conditions, Spanish women have so far refused to withdraw from the labor market.

There is persistent gender gap in Spain’s labor market which is segregated horizontally and vertically. The most important legal reference for equal pay and equal treatment in Spain is Law on Equality 3/2007. However, the regulation of the gender pay gap requires further implementation of measures that have yet to be issued. Although it was absent from the public

 debate for almost a long time, in the 2015 electoral debate, the issue of the gender pay gap became part of the electoral plan. Spain’s pension gender gap reveals how much can women’s pension gap can lag behind. The unequal parental leaves shows that the Spain welfare system is based on traditional values. Although maternity leave provides six mandatory and non-transferable weeks for the mother (if both parents are employed) they can be transferred to the father, but there are no incentives, so traditional gender norms tend to prevent fathers from taking leave.

Considering the Spanish case, the Southern model lags behind in terms of gender equality in every aspect discussed in this article.


In conclusion, the representative model countries Sweden, France and Spain have made significant efforts in developing and strengthening the welfare states, especially focusing on the gender equality. Important aspects of the old gender arrangements still exist in the newer gender arrangements, because the gender division of labor has not disappeared. In some countries, the employment rate of women is approaching that of men, and more women than ever are evading traditional roles and pursuing occupations that were previously considered entirely men. However, women still face the pressure of restricting economic activities, such as through part-time work or other means "backtracking”, to provide care, most women (and some men) face the challenge of combining work and family life.


In Scandinavian countries, as from the case of Sweden we can observe that there is equal participation for male and females in every sector.The number of women employed in France stands out among continental European countries but slightly lower than in the Scandinavian countries; But like these countries, part-time jobs - an increasingly important source of female employment - have a relatively long duration of hours and relatively good protection. And women's employment is often continuous throughout life. The Southern model still witnesses low rate of gender equality, with less opportunities for both men and women in each sector.


Irrespective of the welfare state model functionality, each country to strive to achieve gender equality in every sector.  Although the current policy mix is ​​still not enough for male and women to truly balance work and family, the recent trend is that equal maternal and paternal leaves, employment opportunities and equal wages and pension may provide gender equality.



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