Thursday, May 25, 2017

Norwegian Child Welfare

In researching a post I subsequently abandoned* I read up on the child benefit allowance and other government provision related to children in Norway.  My son had described to me a few years ago how impossibly generous it is, and I wondered, as Americans often do, how the Norwegians were going to sustain this after a generation of women  grew up expecting to be taken care of in such style, with no need for husband or family to support them. Not to mention boyfriends who anticipated being off the hook for support. 

It turns out it’s not quite that simple.  There are two tracks.  There are minimal benefits for anyone, enough to survive but not have extra. Those who have been working prior to the birth of the child are eligible for an additional set of benefits. There seems to be different requirements for different programs, but most seem to require that one be employed in a pensionable job for twelve out of the eighteen months prior. This does not include being in college.  They don’t want to encourage you to drop out of school to have a baby. The book I mentioned a few months ago Debunking Utopia, stressed that generous Scandinavian social welfare springs from a culture in which hard work and mutual responsibility are expected.  I have read similar analyses over the last decade and more, and this example seems a clear expression of that value. If you are a person who works, you are fulfilling the expectations of the society and they are (generally) happy to give you time off to have a baby (paternity leave is also generous), take care of it when it is very young, then send it to subsidized day care and return to work in a year or even two. Medical care provided. The government is strict about getting fathers to contribute.  There doesn’t seem to be much stigma attached.

But if you are not “a person who works” they feel much less obligation to provide more than the survivable minimum.  In my tribal formulation, you become not quite one of us. You must lean on your personal support network in that case.
I admit I don’t actually know this is how their system works.  There may be easily-exploited loopholes that render this limit-setting void. (I’m not sure that my son is a good source to explain it to me.) I don’t know if it’s sustainable or whether I would prefer it. Norwegians may have decided it’s too generous or not generous enough and be changing it as I write.  I mention it because it’s not what I expected and I found it interesting.

*I speculated how choice of person to have a child with might change rapidly in a culture which does some rescuing from the effects of single parenting, and how this might change gene frequencies in a population in only a few generations.  I asked myself which personality characteristics would be more rewarded in mate selection and which would become less important. I decided I had too little data to do anything more than make up Just-So Stories.

No comments: