Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD

Social mobility in Denmark compares favourably with all other member countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the intergovernmental organisation has said.

Escape route from poverty shortest in Denmark: OECD
File photo: Søren Bidstrup/Scanpix 2016

Denmark is the pioneer that experts look at when it comes to breaking with social heritage, OECD director of employment, labour and social affairs Stefano Scarpetta said in an interview with

“Denmark's history is extremely positive vis-à-vis other OECD countries. Social mobility in Denmark is extremely high,” said Scarpetta, who in the course of the past five years has been scrutinising mobility in 34 OECD countries.

In collaboration with his OECD colleagues, Scarpetta has been taking a close look at Denmark in an effort to understand how to create dynamic societies, in which it is not only your background and your parents’ financial situation which determine your trajectory in life.

OECD provided to DI Business a number of statements which outline Denmark's record on social inequality in comparison to 34 OECD countries.

According to the statements, Denmark and the other Nordic countries are amongst those with the smallest difference in income between rich and poor.

Denmark is also one of the countries in which children whose parents have not received further education have good opportunities for studying at college and university themselves.

Of all its member countries, Denmark has the highest degree of income mobility from one generation to the next, the OECD also found. 

As such, Denmark is the country, where your familial origin has the least impact in terms of your income throughout life.

“When Danes say there is no mobility in Denmark, it is because they do not look at other countries. Maybe they don't know what the situation is in France, Italy or the United States,” Scarpetta said.

The OECD director, noted, however, that Denmark has seen some increase in inequality, albeit at a low level, which may be a cause for concern.

Scarpetta said that the Danish education system plays a major role in its good results on social mobility. Denmark provides relatively good education for everyone, he said.

“In the outskirts of Paris, the quality of education is not the same as in the centre. And it is in the outskirts that low income families live. There is not the same diversification of quality in Denmark,” Scarpetta said. 

If it is only the rich who can send their children to high-quality schools and universities, then the existing divisions in society simply remain, negatively impacting national economy as well as social mobility, he said. 

“It is important to make the best use of human resources. That doesn't happen if part of the population are deprived of getting a decent education and achieving their potential,” the OECD director said.

“Denmark can also be proud of its particularly efficient labour market model, in which unemployed people receive targeted help in finding a new job. Denmark may regard this as commonplace, but other countries are not nearly as efficient,” he added.

The fact that discussions about inequality have begun to emerge in Denmark and other countries comes as no surprise to Scarpetta, who said he believes this is because we are in an era in which, unlike in the past, not everyone is seeing their incomes rise.

“If you look back at the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s, our economies tended to grow fairly quickly, so that everyone – whether at the top or bottom of society – got a boost in their income. In that context, it was less important to people if the rich became much richer.

“But today, where large groups of society in some countries have not achieved an income increase, there is more focus on the fact that the very rich have become much richer. And that development will continue in the years to come,” he said.

READ ALSO: Report points to increase in socioeconomic inequality between Danish schools

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Norway ranked world’s top nation for ‘human development’

The Human Development Report 2019 has placed Norway as the leading country in the world.

Norway ranked world’s top nation for 'human development'
Photo: tan4ikk/Depositphotos

The annual report takes into account factors including life expectancy at birth, expected years of schooling, mean total years of schooling, and gross national income per capita.

A product of these factors is used to calculate a country’s Human Development Index (HDI).

Norway’s overall score on the index was 0.954, moving it from number 5 on the 2018 index to number 1 in 2019.

The Nordic nation was also ranked first in 2017.

Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and Hong Kong (SAR) took the remaining top five places on the index. Nordic neighbours Sweden and Denmark were placed 8th and 11th respectively.

The report also finds that Norway’s HDI score has grown consistently in the long term, with a 0.41 percent increase in the index since 1990 and a 0.16 percent increase since 2010.

But the increase for the current decade was smaller as a function than that for the 2000s, when the HDI grew by 0.27 percent.

Norway was also found to have low inequality. The country retained its placed as the highest-ranked nation in the UN development index after each nation’s HDI score was adjusted for inequality.

“In Norway, Spain, France and Croatia… the bottom 40 percent (of earners) saw their incomes grow at a rate similar to that of the average income,” the report notes.

However, in Norway and France, “the top 1 percent of incomes grew more than the average, meaning that the income share of the groups in between was squeezed,” it added.

The country ranked top of the index for gender development, meanwhile, despite a notable difference in estimated gross national income per capita for men and women.

The HDI for Norway, classified by gender, was 0.946 for women and 0.955 for men.

“While Norway is pleased to top the list, the countries that are at the top must do more to help those at the bottom,” Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein told news agency NTB.

“For the first time in world history, we have a real opportunity to eradicate all extreme poverty in the world. But after a long period of progress, we now see that the arrows are pointing downwards for many of the poorest countries. Right now. we are not on track to achieve the sustainability goals by 2030. The clock is ticking,” the minister added.

Those views appear to be supported by the overall conclusions of the report, which state that “two children born in 2000 in countries with different levels of human development will have vastly different prospects for adult life”.

“The wave of demonstrations sweeping across countries is a clear sign that, for all our progress, something in our globalized society is not working,” United Nations Development Programme administrator Achim Steiner said via the UNDP website.

READ ALSO: How Norway's schools compare to other countries in global ranking