Yesterday the Telegraph ran a fascinating article on divorce in Denmark.
The Scandinavian countries may not be renowned for their sunny weather but they have developed an enviable reputation for gender equality, support for human rights and generous welfare provision. That welfare provision includes both free healthcare and – something that would be music to the ears of many a hard-pressed British family – huge childcare subsidies. In Denmark the state pays three quarters of a couple’s childcare costs when a mother returns to work, Russell reports – just imagine such an arrangement in Britain! Howls of outrage would mingle with cries of relief.
It’s not surprise, then, to hear that a decisive 86 per cent of Danish women return to work after giving birth, placing the country fourth in global rankings for female employment.
It sounds like a pretty idyllic place to raise a family. Who wouldn’t want to live in a country thought to be the happiest in the world? But there it seems there is a – sort of –downside. As well as being fourth for female employment, Denmark is also fourth on a European league table for divorce – some way ahead of the UK, the article claims.
Author Helen Russell suggests various possible reasons for this odd-seeming situation. High salaries for one, and equal pay. With most men and women in work, few depend on their partners for cash. Danes – the lucky devils – also work some of the shortest hours in Europe and enjoy an abundance of public holidays.
As Russell notes, tongue somewhat in cheek:
“The Danes work an average of just 34 hours a week according to Statistic Denmark – leaving an alarming 134 hours to hang out with your spouse…. It’s enough to put a strain on the strongest of relationships.”
It is also, she says, easy to get divorced – separation of only six months and fee of around £50 is all you need she claims!
Russell begins her vivid snapshot of family life in our next-door neighbour on the so-called ‘Divorce Express’, a train running between capital Copenhagen and the northern region of Jutland. This particular train is renowned for shuttling children between weekends in the city with one parent and weekday school with the other – a journey dubbed the ‘loud hour’ by locals.
Politicians and rightwing think tanks love to depict divorce as a harbinger of doom and social decay. Warnings about ever-present threats to ‘family values’ always play well to a certain crowd. Of course divorce can be – and so often is – difficult and painful for those caught up in it, children especially. But I think the lesson to be learned from countries like Denmark is that the D word need not necessarily be a symptom of a troubled and unstable society– it can, in fact, be an expression of freedom and prosperity. People who live in a stable society, with a strong social safety net and relative freedom from economic burdens will inevitably want to do their own thing and go their own way.