Chapter 6. Utopia

        The kids will be just fine, because the family will rally round them and, likely as not, the parents will continue to have a civilized relationship, based on the usually automatic understanding that custody for the children will be shared.

—Oddny Sturludottir

        When I decided to get divorced, I consulted my minister and a psychiatrist. Not once did I ever think I needed a lawyer.

—Eva Marie Jonsdottir

IN 2008, THE JOURNALIST JOHN CARLIN TRAVELED TO REYKJAVIK, THE capital of Iceland, a Scandinavian nation of just 300,000. The country is known to Americans as the land settled by the Vikings and, more recently, the idyllic backdrop of the peace summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev—a summit that produced the first major thaw in the Cold War. Carlin, a cerebral and jolly cultural observer whose biography of Nelson Mandela is the basis of the critically-acclaimed film Invictus, had been sent by the British newspaper The Guardian to investigate a study showing that Icelanders were the happiest people on earth. Carlin was skeptical of studies in general—he wryly observed that the only reason to consider this particular one legitimate at all was its ranking of Russians as the least happy—and cynical about Icelanders in general. As the first two sentences of the article would point out: “Highest birth rate in Europe + highest divorce rate + highest percentage of women working outside the home = the best country in the world in which to live. There has to be something wrong with this equation.”

Iceland’s mix of “loads of kids, broken homes and absent mothers” sounded, he wrote, more like “a recipe for misery and social chaos.” And, in most of the Western world, it would be, wouldn’t it? Certainly in the United States, where this laundry list of social ills might be a rallying cry for a conservative politician running for high office or an evangelist lamenting the decline of family values and traditional morality. So how to explain the fact that Icelanders were not only the happiest people on earth, at least according to the study, but some of the most productive—their per-capita GDP was then ranked sixth in the world—and among the smartest, their children outperforming Americans in standardized math and science tests?

Perhaps how their families dealt with conflict was more important than the presence of conflict itself. Perhaps if you ditched the paternalistic mindset and considered men and women truly equal, they would make better mothers and fathers. Perhaps, if you did not link money to children (or, more specifically, child “custody”) you would not fester lengthy and punishing legal battles. Perhaps this would leave more money for things like education and living expenses so parents would not have to fight over what was left. Buy the book to read more…

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