The Thinking 

In Sweden, Feminist Utopianism Falters

September 30, 2011



I have heard Sweden referred to as a paradise many times. In Sweden, which is famous for its generous parental leave policies, everything is supposedly wonderful and the Swedish have no problems. In fact, Sweden has many of the same social problems found in the rest of Europe.

For instance, there was a radical decline in the proportion of women of reproductive age who were married from 1970 to the year 2000; even the 40-to-44 year old age group declined greatly in the proportion who were married. In addition, there is evidence of a remarkable growth in psychological and cognitive problems among the nation’s young, a phenomenon which cannot be attributed solely to the influx of foreign immigrants. Swedish parents now seem to lack normal parental skills, such as the ability to discipline their children.

The below table gives the proportion of women in Sweden who were married for each age group from 15 to 44 years old from 1970 to 2010. 

Married Women in Sweden by age group according to year

1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
15-19 2.1% 0.7% 0.6% 0.4% 0.5%
20-24 38.2% 15.5% 11.4% 6.2% 6.9%
25-29 73.2% 46.6% 35.8% 20.5% 22.2%
30-34 83.2% 66.7% 56.6% 39.8% 41.0%
35-39 85.0% 73.9% 65.5% 48.4% 50.6%
40-44 84.3% 75.9% 68.4% 53.9% 52.1%

Sweden saw a radical increase in its divorce rate from 1960 to 1975; a similar pattern to what occurred in the United States. In 1960 Sweden’s divorce rate was 19.1%; this then increased to 29.9% in 1970 and up to 57.6% in 1975. After 1975 the divorce rate peaked at 67.0% in 1995 and then fell to a minimum of 42.5% in 2008. In 2010 it stood at 46.5%.

Sweden’s out-of-wedlock birth ratio started in 1960 at 11.3%. By 1970 it had grown to 18.6% and then suddenly jumped to 32.8% in 1975. It then rose to 46.4% in 1985 and to 53.0% in 1995. The ratio peaked at 56.0% in 2002 and was at 54.1% in 2010.

The fertility rate in Sweden was a high, by European standards, 1.94 children per woman in 2009 (not 1.67 as previously reported at this site). This rate was exceeded by Ireland, France, and Norway and was equaled in the United Kingdom (all these countries still being below replacement level, Ireland being the highest at 2.07 births per woman).

In 1994 12.9% of Sweden’s population was of foreign background meaning they were either born in a foreign country or both of their parents were born in a foreign country. That ratio increased to 19.1% in 2010.

In addition to the usual family problems found in European countries today Sweden is remarkable for the extremely high proportion of its 18 month to 5 year old children who are in day care; it is  government policy in Sweden that as many children as possible be in day care. Sweden provides generous parental leave. Working parents are entitled to 16 months paid leave per child with the cost divided between employer and the state. A minimum of two months of the 16 must be used by the second parent, usually the father.

Jonas Himmelstrand, author of Following Your Heart in the Social Utopia of Sweden and part of a very small but growing pro-family movement in Sweden, is very critical of Sweden’s “Family Policy.” Sweden, from how Himmelstrand describes it, is a feminist dictatorship where there is very strong pressure to put one’s children into day care once the parental leave period ends and the child is 18 months old. Indeed, 92% of children aged 18 months to 5 years are in day care.

A large day care institution was established in Sweden as government policy starting in 1975; at that time only 10% of children were in day care. Today the cost of day care is subsidized 90% by the government and the cultural pressure on women to put their children into daycare is enormous. The government even subsidizes daycare when a parent is unemployed and perfectly capable of taking care of the child at home because as the government says “The child has a right to daycare.” As Himmelstrand describes “When a mother takes her soon to be one year-old baby for a medical check-up she will typically be asked: ‘How do you feel now about going back to work soon, because you are going back to work aren’t you?’ When the child is 18 months of age many nurses will say: ‘You really need to go back to work now, because your child needs to be in daycare and you need to work.’” The pressure on women to go to work and put their children in daycare is as blatant as that.

Well, many problems are showing up in Sweden as a result of the nearly compulsive and universal daycare foisted upon young children. Himmelstrand details these problems, which he calls “uncomfortable statistics.” He writes:

1) During the last 30 years Sweden has seen a severe decline in the psychological health among our youth. Mild psychological disorders such as reoccurring headaches, stomach aches, worries and anxiety have tripled from about 9% to 30% since the eighties for girls, and slightly less for boys. Several studies by Government institutions confirm these statistics. However, no plausible official explanation has been given. During the years 1986-2002 the psychological health for 15 year old’s in Sweden declined faster than in ten other comparable countries: Finland, Denmark, Norway, Hungary, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Wales, Spain and Scotland.

2) Sweden has very high rates of sick-leave, especially among women, and particularly among women over 50 years of age, statistics which are at the top in Europe. Psychosocial explanations dominate. Few women today actually work until 65 years of age. Many take early retirement of some form as soon as age 55. This is, of course, the first generation of women who have had to combine motherhood with full-time work, excepting for parental leave. These data are shown in a study published in the Swedish medical journal, Läkartidningen in 2005.

3) Educational outcomes in Swedish schools are plummeting. Twenty-five years ago Swedish children were among the best in the world in reading, writing and mathematics. Today, we just about make it to average, and in mathematics we are below average.

4) Swedish schools have severe discipline problems. According to our present Minister of Education, Jan Björklund, Swedish schools have among the highest truancy, the greatest classroom disorder, the most damage to property and the most offensive language of all comparable nations. Björklund has been criticised for exaggerating, but official reports confirm that these problems in Swedish schools are significant. Also, one who visits Swedish schools for professional reasons can bear witness to the situation.

5) The parental skills of Swedish parents are deteriorating. Britta Johansson was one of several researchers in a EU-sponsored study of Swedish schools and day care. One thousand five hundred teachers and day care staff were interviewed. Britta Johansson wrote an article about the results in one of Sweden’s national morning papers, Svenska Dagbladet. The interviewed educators voiced deep concern about the lack of parental skills in the parents of their pupils. The survey results showed that even healthy, intelligent and reasonable Swedish parents have difficulties in being parents today. According to Britta Johansson they lack knowledge about children’s needs and they cannot set limits. She writes (my translation): “The public offer of full day child care seems to make many parents loose the grip on their own responsibility. They trust that their children are better fostered by the pre-school and school and that the experts on their children are found there.” Britta Johansson also says that pre-school and school cannot fill the gaps caused by lack of parental time with their children and trust in parents role in rearing their children.

 For those interested in the truth about what is going on in Sweden, I strongly recommend Himmelstrand’s excellent website Mireja.


Sweden Statistics – Subject area: Population

Summary of Population Statistics 1960-2010

Council of Europe -Social Cohesion

Eurostat – Population – Demography – Demography, National Data – Fertility – Fertility indicators

Are the Swedish State family policies delivering?

2011 Conference – Jonas Himmelstrand

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