Dutch Offer Makeovers To Unemployed Women — But Swedes Have Better Ideas

A Dutch program is trying to help unemployed women by fixing them up with dudes. But Sweden has upped women's paychecks in an equally surprising but probably better way: setting aside parental leave for men only.

According to the Daily Mail, three councils in the northern Netherlands are offering women a makeover, photo shoot, and membership in a dating service, together apparently worth about $1685. The goal: lessen unemployment benefits by helping the women find husbands who can support them. Radboud Visser, director of the dating agency that will "help" the women, tells the Times of London,

We know from national statistics that people in a relationship have better health, more happiness, make more money and live longer lives. They make less use of medical systems and social security. So in Friesland they thought, we can try to get people out of social security by bringing them to a nice new husband.

He adds that makeovers might help women with job searches too: "If you go for a job interview or on an interview for a new partner, it is almost the same thing. You must be sure you look good, you take care of your body and your face and you say the right things."

Dutch women (and men, as the program is technically open to them too) may feel differently. Perhaps they'd prefer, say, job training to a day at the salon. According to the Times, "Mr Visser said that the first candidate for the scheme had already enrolled." But the Mail puts this more pessimistically: "So far, just one candidate has signed up for the voluntary scheme."

The Dutch plan is reminiscent of Italy's pay-for-babies program in its wrongheadedness, but Sweden has another idea that has increased women's pay. According to an in-depth Times article by Katrin Bennhold, though the Scandinavian country has long offered parental leave to either gender, few men took advantage of it — until the government mandated a month that was only available to dads. That's now been extended to two, and may grow to four after elections this September. Now 85% of Swedish dads take some time with their kids, which has had some encouraging results. Writes Bennhold,

Companies have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and not to penalize fathers at promotion time. Women's paychecks are benefiting and the shift in fathers' roles is perceived as playing a part in lower divorce rates and increasing joint custody of children.

Before the move, Bennhold says, "Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition's sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career." Gee, sounds like the United States. While American women still struggle with mommy tracks and the perception that women can't "have it all," Swedish moms benefit from paternity leave — their future earnings jump 7% for every month their partners take.

It's important to note that Sweden doesn't require men to take leave — but couples lose the extra months if dads don't take them, as they can't be transferred to moms. This relatively simple restriction has made parental leave into an almost universal phenomenon, and forced employers to plan accordingly. It's kind of sad that something as desirable as spending time with kids only becomes destigmatized when men start to do it, but at the same time, it's remarkable that Sweden has managed to lessen discrimination dramatically with a pretty simple tweak. Of course, Sweden's parental leave policies are expensive, and they rely on a political climate very different from ours (says Bengt Westerberg, who spearheaded the plan, "In Sweden I am on the right, but in the United States, I'm considered a Communist"). But maybe the US and the Netherlands alike should take note of Sweden — because actual equality for women in the workplace is worth a lot more than a makeover.

Image via Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock.com.

In Sweden, The Men Can Have It All [NYT]
The Father Of Sweden's Fathers' Leave [NYT]
Unemployed Women Given £1,000 Makeovers To Help Them Find A Solvent Husband [Daily Mail]
All You Need Is Love, Dutch Council Tells Jobless Women [TimesOnline]

Earlier: Could Women Game Italy's Pay-For-Babies System?