The Best (and Worst) Countries to Be a Female Architect

  • 16 Dec 2013
  • by
  • Architecture News Editor's Choice
Denise Scott-Brown may be an icon for today’s – but is the USA hostile to female architects?. Image © Frank Hanswijk

As part of their annual survey of the world’s largest architecture practices, this year BD has also included a survey to help them quantify which countries are best suited for women with careers in architecture - particularly those who wish to work for large companies. In order to create these rankings, they found the ratio of male to female architects in various countries, and also sought out publicly available data on maternity and paternity leave requirements, and the average cost of childcare as a percentage of average wage. You can read more about their sometimes surprising results after the break.

Perhaps the most unexpected result from the survey are the top countries when it comes to the ratio of male to female architects (these results were taken purely from the WA100 practices in the survey):

1. Vietnam (0.7 male architects for every female architect)

2. Turkey (0.8)

=3. Sweden (1)

=3. Norway (1)

=4. Germany (1.3)

=4. France (1.3)

5. Spain (1.4)

While the ratios listed here are commendable – particularly Vietnam, Turkey, Sweden and Norway – they are admittedly based on a small sample size, and it is also impossible to simplify the realities of a working life down to a single number. That’s why BD has also created lists of the top 5 and bottom 3 countries to be a female architect based on these ratios, maternity and paternity leave entitlements and childcare costs:

The Top 5

1. Sweden

Sweden is the runaway winner when taking all factors into account. Not only does it have an equal ratio between men and women, it has the longest maternity leave around at 60 weeks full pay (paternity leave is 8.5 weeks full pay). Another big factor is that childcare costs as a percentage of average wage are just 7.1%.

2. Norway

Norway is another country with an equal male/female ratio and extensive fully paid parental leave – 34 weeks for mothers, 12 for fathers. Its childcare costs are a little higher though, at 16.8% of the average wage.

3. Germany

In Germany, the close balance between the sexes is not found only in their male/female ratio of 1.3. It extends to parental leave, where both sexes are entitled to 12 months leave at 65% pay (with single parents offered 14 months). Mothers, however, also get 14 weeks at full pay. Childcare costs are 14.1% of the average income.

4. Denmark

Though the male/female ratio is fractionally lower at 1.5, Denmark gets higher up this list for a relatively progressive system of parental leave: mothers and fathers get 52 weeks of fully paid leave between them, and can choose how to divide it (there is however a stipulation that mothers must take at least 18 weeks of this leave and fathers must take 2 – so it’s not perfectly equal). Childcare costs are also low at 11.2%.

=5. Spain

Spain has a near-equal distribution of male and female architects with a ratio of 1.4. Its parental leave entitlement is a little less impressive at 16 weeks maternity leave and 15 days paternity leave on full pay, but childcare costs are very low at just 8.2% of the average wage.

=5. France

France is similar to Spain with a ratio of 1.3, maternity leave of 16 weeks and paternity leave of 14 days fully paid. Its childcare costs are higher at 16.5%, but it sneaks onto this list thanks to a clause that offers 26 weeks maternity leave after a third child.

The Bottom 3

1. Japan

With a ratio of 9 male architects to every female architect, Japan tops the list of the worst country to work as a female architect. Its parental leave entitlement is unforgiving too, with 14 weeks on 60% pay for mothers and no paternity leave entitlement.

2. USA

Just 5 of the USA’s 50 states have any parental leave entitlement at all (and even in these states it is only 6 weeks), and this added to the fact that childcare is 38.1% of the average wage make the US a top contender for the worst place to be an architect and raise a family.

3. UK

The UK offers just 6 weeks maternity leave at 90% pay, and up to 2 weeks paternity leave. Maternity leave can be extended to 33 weeks, however mothers are only entitled to £136.78 a week for this period, significantly less than minimum wage. Paternity leave can be extended to 29 weeks provided the mother returns to work. The UK also has the highest childcare costs at 40.9% of the average wage.

Cite: Stott, Rory. "The Best (and Worst) Countries to Be a Female Architect" 16 Dec 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 01 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=458792>
  • Steve

    What is the deal with this site? It’s apparently an architecture design site, but every other day there is a feminist-oriented article pretending there is some conspiracy upholding the lower than parity number of female architects. I don’t see teacher or education sites with articles every other day trying to increase males in those fields. In fact, I don’t see ANY sites trying to increase the number of males when they are under-represented.

    • Hallo

      and where are they under-represented ? prostitution ? yeah you should write an article about that

    • gabriella smith
    • Kristen

      Hi Steve,

      First, I get what you’re saying. A lot of people do not really want to read or constantly hear about the lack of women in architecture practice. I think we can both agree that there is not some conspiracy, causing a lower representation of women in the field. I do think that a large reason why teacher and education sites aren’t trying to increase the males working in that field is because they are not seeing males enroll in school to become educators and then not become teachers. Unlike the teaching profession, a typical architecture class is made up of a roughly 50:50 male to female ratio. So, why do only 17% of the females become licensed? I actually do not think this article accurately pinpoints the many reasons why such a small percentage of female architects become licensed. Having a family is certainly one of them. Have you ever pumped in a porta potty on site? Neither have I, but many of my architecture friends have. You see, I have no interest in having a family, but I find that I have to practically spell that out at every interview, to lobby for the pay and position that I deserve. Many women my age (32) are starting or expanding their families and firms are hesitant (although they would never own up to it) to hire or give expanded responsibilities to someone that will be going part-time or take their 6 weeks + of maternity leave in the near future. Many firms are also run by a good ol boys crowd (I am in the south) and do not want women in their upper management. Women are notoriously underpaid in the profession and often overlooked for promotions, which I believe, compounded with the desire to have children, force women out. So, should you have to read about it every day? Probably not. But, is this a big issue that is only going to get bigger? I think so. Women and men should be able to have fulfilling careers and a family life that is right for them – in any field.

    • kd

      okay but this is not talking about teacher or education sites, this article is about architecture. feminism exists for a reason and it’s not a conspiracy theory – it’s not just about women, but for the equality of all genders and everyone.

    • kevin tientcheu

      What are you trying to say?

      • Steve

        I’m saying when I go to archdaily I want to see architecture, not gender-specific cheerleading. My secondary point is that there’s no conspiracy to keep women out of certain fields. The fact is that today, the majority of college students and VAST majority of grad students are female. Yet it’s only the few fields in which they are underrepresented that have articles like this. There is no equivalent mainstream site that ever has articles on the lack of men in fields where they are a minority. It’s just manifestly clear that there is a definite double standard that is helping women at the expense of men.

  • A.T

    Ehhh??? Vietnam? From which planet this research has been done? My undergrad class had 8 girls among 40 and it’s still much better than the other classes or architectural universities.

    • Rory Stott

      As mentioned, the ratios alone are based on a small sample size, as they are based on responses from WA100 practices (ie the world’s 100 largest). I am not privy to the original data, but my guess is that the result for Vietnam is based on no more than one or maybe two practices.

      In other words, the largest practices in Vietnam employ a high proportion of women – that does not necessarily make it representative of the wider architectural scene.

  • PK

    Why is it that the ratio of men are greater it automatically makes it a worse place to be a women architect? That seemed to be a common theme through this whole essay. Also, in the US with six weeks paid leave, it would make being a female lawyer, doctor, teacher, or McDonald’s burger flipper just as bad. Not, just architects.

  • Walter

    So… all women care about is maternity leave, and that there are other women around? How is this a measure of quality of life?

  • Vince Marchetto

    I wonder if you could cross reference this data with how easy it is to find employment in each country. For instance it could be better to be an employed architect in France than an employed architect in the USA, But it would be better to be an employed architect in America than an unemployed architect in France (debatable). I guess i’m curious to see if less benefits equals more jobs per capita, and if thats true, what is a better situation. More jobs with less benefits, or more benefits with less jobs?

  • Cris

    I dont think you should state a country is better for female architects based only on maternity leave. In most countries, and particularly in big practices,the percentage of female directors/senior staff is ridiculous. As a woman I find this a much more important issue.

  • Amy

    Perhaps this article should be simply called “The Best/Worst Place to be Employed and have a Family”. Not much is connected to the idea of architecture being better for female architects as it assumes all women architects have children. I would like to mention that “Steve’s” comment about this being a feminist issue is like saying that raising children is a feminist issue. There are lots of studies done on these statistics on Maternity/Paternity leave and childcare. Below is just one.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/04/maternity-leave-paid-parental-leave-_n_2617284.html
    I think if this article were to be looking at the profession of architecture and women architects then they need to go a bit deeper than children and family leave. I also think that the US won’t get any better until men start arguing for their rights as fathers to be home taking care of their families and not get penalized for it.

  • Leonardo

    It’s just a study research. It is always nice to know some of this facts.

  • vrey

    should this article be called “Best (and worst) countries for maternity and paternity leave”?

  • clive elsdon

    Get the numbering correct at least. You cannot be 4th (never mind equal 4th) if there is an equal 3rd situation above you… you are 5th or in this case equal 5th… therefore Spain is in fact 7th, as there are 6 countries listed above them…

  • Bea

    What do you say about Belgium? Where 90% of architects have status freelance. To geta contract is really rare. So you dont work, you dont get money. Nothing! nice, hy?

  • Amy Vohs

    I agree with Vrey. This article does little to connect the profession to being a woman other than maternity leave and childcare. Women architects are cooncerned about considerably more than just children. I would like to see more on the specific struggles that women in the different countries experience but this is hard to come by without a lot of research and a much bigger pool of firms. Simply discussing child care and maternity leave makes me think that the author believes that is the only issue we care about. I can get better and more accurate numbers on this issue from other studies recently published. This issue is also a concern for many male architects as well since they have to fight for their rights as fathers to be present for their children.

  • pri

    Please. whoever wrote this sexist article! Please do not write anything about females- not all of us women want to have a family- THE REASON WHY I AM NOT INTERESTED IN BEING LICENSED IS BECAUSE I WANT A PHD INSTEAD AND I WANT TO DO INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT WORK – NOT HAVE A FAMILY!!!!!