The happiness component

The happiness component

Guest writer Meik Wiking ponders the happiness gap and why Nordic parents are indeed happier.

Perspective

American expat Christa Clapps, who had her first baby in France and her second in Norway, is somewhat of a parental leave connoisseur. “Had I stayed at my federal government job in Washington, D.C., I would have had zero paid maternity leave. What incentive did this provide for me to start my family in my mother country?”

Meanwhile in Norway, where Clapps currently lives, parents are entitled to 46 weeks of paid leave at full salary or at 56 weeks at 80 per cent.

Clapps’ words also offer insights into why happiness researchers have detected differences in how having children impacts life satisfaction in different countries.

If you look at Americans, you will find that people with kids are 12 per cent less happy than people without kids. But if you look at Finland, Sweden, and Norway, you will find that people with kids are around two per cent happier than people without kids.

Does that mean that Nordic kids are nicer than American kids? Of course not. It’s all about work-life balance.

Are Nordic kids nicer than American kids?

The happiness gap we see for parents in the US and elsewhere can be explained by questions such as: Is childcare affordable? Do parents get leave to look after a sick child? Are there paid holidays? In other words, are parents provided the tools and freedom to help them combine work and family life?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Better Life Index, one in every eight employees across the OECD countries works 50 hours or more per week, while for the corresponding figure for Sweden is only one per cent, three per cent for Norway, and four per cent for Finland.

Some say that visiting a Nordic workplace is like witnessing the opening credits of The Flintstones. Come five o’clock, all the people are gone before you can say “Yabba dabba doo!”

In addition, Nordic maternity and paternity leave is world class. For instance, new parents in Sweden are entitled to 16 months of leave at 80 per cent of their normal salary. Mums and dads can split the leave as they choose after the first 18 weeks, which are reserved just for the mums.

These are some of the reasons why more and more expat parents are heading for the Nordic countries. As one couple told me when I was interviewing expats living in the Nordic countries:

“You have a fundamentally different approach to time here. You value the fact that families have time to eat together, every day. We might have earned more in London, but we would have had far less time – and been less happy.”

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