Women who lose out from equality policy – Wives who accompany husbands working abroad

Seventy-five percent of Swedes who move to live abroad eventually return to Sweden. This makes returning Swedes one of the largest groups of immigrants. Catrin Lundström at Linköping University has investigated the situation of women who return home after living abroad. She shows that these migrants are disadvantaged by two factors: the global economy and the Swedish welfare system. This is particularly clear in the matter of pensions.

HousewifePhoto credit: iStockIncreasing numbers of Swedes spend part of their life abroad. Many large Swedish companies offer their employees the opportunity to work abroad for some years, and many people take it up. These are often men, and it is not seldom that their wife accompanies them to make the man’s career possible, since preschools and other childcare facilities are not available in the new country. So Swedish housewives still exist – just not in Sweden.

“The issue of migration is in focus at the moment, so it is interesting to remember that returning Swedes have long been the largest group of immigrants into Sweden. It can be difficult for these to reintegrate into Swedish society. When looking at the women in my research, it is also interesting to examine how Swedish gender equality policies can disadvantage women who return home”, says Catrin Lundström, docent in sociology at Linköping University.

Catrin Lundström’s research shines a light on a previously unexamined group – returners. Her research project has focussed on 46 returning women who carried out family-related work abroad as a consequence of their husband’s career. The results of the project are presented in the most recent issue of the Swedish journal Sociologisk forskning.

Disadvantaged by gender-equality policies

The research shows that some aspects of Swedish gender-equality policies do not benefit these women. One example is pensions. The pension system is based on the idea that women and men divide both paid employment and family-related work evenly, which means that their circumstances when abroad do not fit the model. The women in the study believed that individual taxation disfavoured them, even though the purpose of the reform when introduced was to make it easier for women to decide whether they wanted to enter the labour market. Since the women in the study had not been in paid employment for several years, they received an extremely low pension. In this way, they continued to be dependent on their husband’s income when they returned to Sweden.Catrin Lundström Photo credit: Levi Batista Gonçalves.

Catrin Lundström believes that the problems experienced by the subjects of her interview study on returning to Sweden are shared by migrants in general. This is because the Swedish pension system is based on income for one’s entire working life, and receiving a full guaranteed pension requires having lived 40 years in Sweden between the ages of 16 and 64.

“We are expected to be flexible and act on a global labour market in today’s society. But a mismatch occurs when our welfare state is organised based on the principle of living and working in Sweden.”

The article (in Swedish, abstract in English):
A housewife “at home”: Returning migrant women’s encounters of Swedish gender equality in policy and in practice, Catrin Lundström, Sociologisk forskning, Vol. 55, no. 2-3, pp. 389-414


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