COVID-19 and the Nordic Paradox: A call to measure the inequality reducing benefits of welfare systems in the wake of the pandemic
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionSocial Science and Medicine. 2021, 289 . 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.114455
The Nordic Paradox of inequality describes how the Nordic countries have puzzlingly high levels of relative health inequalities compared to other nations, despite extensive universal welfare systems and progressive tax regimes that redistribute income. However, the veracity and origins of this paradox have been contested across decades of literature, as many scholars argue it relates to measurement issues or historical coincidences. Disentangling between potential explanations is crucial to determine if widespread adoption of the Nordic model could represent a sufficient panacea for lowering health inequalities, or if new approaches must be pioneered. As newfound challenges to welfare systems continue to emerge, evidence describing the benefits of welfare systems is becoming ever more important. Preliminary evidence indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic is drastically exacerbating social inequalities in health across the world, via direct and indirect effects. We argue that the COVID-19 pandemic therefore represents a unique opportunity to measure the value of welfare systems in insulating their populations from rising social inequalities in health. However, COVID-19 has also created new measurement challenges and interrupted data collection mechanisms. Robust academic studies will therefore be needed—drawing on novel data collection methods—to measure increasing social inequalities in health in a timely fashion. In order to assure that policies implemented to reduce inequalities can be guided by accurate and updated information, policymakers, academics, and the international community must work together to ensure streamlined data collection, reporting, analysis, and evidence-based decision-making. In this way, the pandemic may offer the opportunity to finally clarify some of the mechanisms underpinning the Nordic Paradox, and potentially more firmly establish the merits of the Nordic model as a global example for reducing social inequalities in health.