Sweden






Culture Name

Swedish

Orientation

Identification. The people who came to be called Swedes were mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus in 98 C.E. The names given to these people— Sviones, Svear, swaensker —led to the modern English term. Sweden has been a sovereign state for more than a millennium, and this has fostered cultural cohesion.

Centuries of relative ethnic, religious, and linguistic homogeneity were followed by substantial immigration during the last sixty years, creating a multicultural society. The indigenous Sami (sometimes called Lapp) people live in the northernmost part of the country and the neighboring states.

Location and Geography. The land area is 173,732 square miles (449,964 square kilometers). Except for mountain chains in the north and west along the Norwegian border, the land is relatively flat. Half is blanketed by forests, while just under a tenth is farmed. There are nearly 100,000 lakes, and a long, rocky coastline on the Baltic Sea. These diverse landscapes are warmed by the Gulf Stream, creating a temperate climate.

Despite Swedes' love of long summer days at waterside cottages, there has been a continuing movement of the population from rural areas to urban centers for more than a century. The largest city is Stockholm, the political, economic, and cultural hub. This port city is in the southernmost third of the country, where a large majority of the population lives; it has been the capital since 1523.

Demography. The population is about 8.9 million people as of 2000. A land of relative ethnic homogeneity has been transformed into a multiethnic society, by immigration in the second half of the twentieth century. Today, about a tenth of the inhabitants are foreign-born, and an additional one-tenth were born in Sweden but have at least one foreign-born parent. These include persons from the rest of Scandinavia and Finland. Immigrants from non-Nordic countries are concentrated largely in urban areas, particularly Stockholm, despite government efforts to promote a more even distribution. The indigenous Sami people number between 17,000 and 20,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Most citizens speak Swedish as their first language and English as their second. Swedish is a north Germanic language related to Norwegian, Danish, Icelandic, and Faeroese; it has incorporated elements of German, French, English, and Finnish. The language has been nationally standardized for more than a century, but regional variations in pronunciation persist. English is a required second language in school. The many immigrant groups speak roughly two hundred languages, of which the largest first language is Finnish, which is spoken by about 200,000 persons. The public school system allows immigrant children to continue studying their first languages as a supplement to their other studies.

Symbolism. In 1928, Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson described Sweden as folkhemmet, "the people's home." This metaphor of the nation as a great family household helped nourish the general-welfare society for the remainder of the century. Folkhemmet stood at the center of a cluster of institutions symbolizing social democratic ideals of equality and mutual care. Day-care centers, hospitals, old-age homes, communal music schools, municipal meeting centers ( folkets hus ), labor unions, and First of May parades were symbols of the new society.

Another significant set of symbols is linked to Sweden's agrarian past. Examples include mid summer dances, Maypoles, painted wooden horses from the province of Dalarna, and Christmas feasts. Industrialization and urbanization came late, helping

Sweden
Sweden
to fuel a twentieth-century cultural emphasis on modernity. Rational planning and high technology became important collective orientations, as seen in meticulously designed suburbs and in corporations that project an aura of acute rationality. The image of a supermodern nation also drew support from pioneering policies and practices in child care, gender equality, and sexual freedom. Social innovation in the 1960s and 1970s led many foreigners to view Sweden as a forerunner of the future.

The flag was often downplayed as a symbol. In the decades after World War II, internationalist ideals made it embarrassing to exhibit the flag to a degree that would be normal in other countries. By the early 1990s, the flag had become popular in the small subculture of anti-immigrant, right-wing extremists. This made it unattractive to the rest of the population. Only recently has this blue and yellow flag been employed more widely. The partial relinquishment of sovereignty to the European Union (EU) is seen by many people as jeopardizing national integrity; renewed interest in the flag is one response to that situation.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The first people arrived as an ice age ended between 12,000 and 10,000 B.C.E. They were tribes of reindeer hunters. Stone, bronze, and iron tools were developed, and by the time of Tacitus there was trade with the Roman empire. Bands of Vikings pursued plunder and commerce as they traveled by ship over the Baltic Sea and up Russian rivers, as well as into Western Europe, between 800 and 1050 C.E. Around 1000 C.E. the many independent provinces began to be united into a single, loosely federated kingdom. Monarchs were able to impose increasing degrees of national power in succeeding centuries. State building advanced rapidly under Gustav Vasa, who was elected king in 1523 C.E. He confiscated lands from the Roman Catholic Church and the nobility, promoted the Lutheran Reformation, built a German-inspired central administration, imposed taxes, suppressed dissent, and established a hereditary monarchy. By the end of his reign in 1560 C.E. , Sweden was a relatively consolidated kingdom. The economy was predominantly agricultural, supplemented by iron and copper mining. During the next 250 years, Sweden fought wars against Denmark, Russia, Poland, and Norway. The nineteenth century brought peace, but poverty prompted mass emigration, particularly to North America.

National Identity. Sweden's egalitarian society builds on historical circumstances that favor a sense of solidarity. More than a thousand years of continuous existence as a sovereign state allowed for the gradual development of strong national institutions. During the medieval period, the practice of serfdom was never established, and the preponderance of independent farmers helped minimize social class differences and nurture an ethic of equality. Relative ethnic, religious, and linguistic homogeneity facilitated the establishment of a national community. Wars with neighboring states sharpened consciousness of Swedishness in contrast to opposing national identities.

Ethnic Relations. Between the late 1940s and late 1960s, the booming economy attracted skilled workers from southern Europe. Those workers were allowed to immigrate freely and gain full citizenship. Norway, Denmark, and Finland also provided large numbers of immigrants.

No other affluent nation in recent decades has accepted as many political refugees, per capita, as Sweden has. People fleeing wars and repression from such places as Hungary, Vietnam, Chile, and Kurdistan have been granted a safe haven. In the 1990s, Sweden was the leading industrialized nation, in relation to population, in accepting those uprooted by wars in the former Yugoslavia. Foreigners enjoy full access to the welfare system, can vote in local elections, and can become citizens in five years.

Today it is common to hear a distinction made between "Swedes" ( svenskar ) and "immigrants" (invandrare). This distinction is linked to physical appearance, imputed cultural affiliation, and social class. A person who bears a Swedish passport, speaks Swedish fluently, and is the daughter of two Swedish citizens may still be classified by some as an immigrant if she appears to be of African or Asian descent. Socially concerned citizens avoid this dichotomy, and the legal system makes no distinction. Official public documents that deal with immigration often use alternative formulations such as "new Swedes."

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The country is renowned for its urban planning. Through most of the twentieth century, close cooperation between municipalities and private firms was the usual form for urban planning. One goal was to design vibrant neighborhoods, complete with schools, workplaces, community buildings, parks, health clinics, and shops; a successful example is Vällingby, a Stockholm suburb that attracted international attention upon its completion in 1954. Traffic safety has been an ongoing preoccupation of planners, and that effort, combined with campaigns against drunk driving, has given the country the world's lowest rate of traffic deaths.

In 1965, the parliament decided to promote the building of a million new housing units in the succeeding ten years. As a result, even working-class residents have one of the highest housing standards in the world. A majority of the people live in apartments in towns and cities, while a substantial minority own their own houses. Summer cottages are popular, and cooperative communal gardens provide opportunities for city dwellers to grow their own vegetables.

Swedish functionalism, in architecture as well as furniture design, is a modernist style that emphasizes practical utility. In architecture, functionalism has often involved standardization as a way to lower costs and ensure high levels of hygiene and safety. The displacement of historic city centers by glass and steel commercial buildings has provoked a backlash against functionalism in the last thirty years. The style has fared better in furniture design, which features simplicity, practicality, and the use of wood and other natural materials.

A diffident respect for other people's privacy is typical in public spaces, where voices are kept low, bus passengers converse minimally, and wellknown individuals are rarely accosted. The custom of removing one's shoes before entering a home marks a sharp conceptual separation between the public and private realms.

Food and Economy

Read more about the Food and Cuisine of Sweden.

Food in Daily Life. There is a wide array of culinary choices, including pizza, kebabs, falafel, hamburgers, and Chinese cuisine. Nonetheless, it is customary to identify certain items as particularly Swedish because of their association with the agricultural or early industrial past. The term husmanskost, or homely fare, refers to a basic diet of potatoes, meat or fish, and a hearty sauce. A less agrarian dinner alternative is the smörgåsbord. This buffet meal of cold and hot hors d'oeuvres often includes various forms of herring, meats, cheeses, and vegetables.

Breakfast typically includes bread with butter or cheese; muesli or cornflakes with filmjölk, a yogurtlike milk product; and coffee. Relatively light hot or cold lunches at midday customarily are followed by early-evening suppers. Common components of these two meals include bread, pasta, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, peas, herring, salmon, and meat. Immigration has enriched the range of restaurants, and restaurant patronage is rising.

Effective regulation has made Swedish food perhaps the safest in the world; standardized symbols identify foods that are low-fat, ecologically certified, or produced abroad under humane working conditions. Vegetarian, vegan, and animal-rights movements have prompted Sweden to become the first E.U. member to outlaw battery cages for hens.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. The smörgåsbord is well adapted to festive meals such as Christmas, Easter, Midsummer, and wedding banquets. Meat and fish dishes have greater prominence at these times, as do schnapps and other alcoholic beverages. Certain holidays have trademark dishes: The feast of Saint Lucia (13 December) calls for saffron buns, Midsummer revelers eat pickled herring and new potatoes, and late summer is a time for crayfish parties ( kräftskivor ) and, in the north, gatherings for the ingestion of fermented herring (surströmming).

Basic Economy. The economy is unusually diversified for a small country. Sweden is home to several giant transnational corporations, which dominate foreign trade. Their economic and political might is counterbalanced by large labor unions and a strong public sector.

Exports account for 36 percent of the gross domestic product in a nation that has been open to the globalization of its economy. Sweden was early in opening its telecommunications and other key domestic markets to foreign competition. European Union membership has forced the country to become less liberal in its trade policy. Sweden has not joined the European Monetary Union; its currency remains the krona .

Land Tenure and Property. Less than a tenth of the land is devoted to agriculture, mostly in the form of family farms. Forested land is held largely by individuals and corporations; the state owns less than 5 percent. Access to nature is protected by allemansrätten, the right of common access to land. This law makes it permissible for anyone to walk and camp on almost all private property; landowners are not permitted to barricade their estates. Strict building codes safeguard the quality of publicly accessible spaces. Urban apartment units are often owned by national renters' associations rather than by private landlords, an arrangement that makes it possible for working-class people to obtain desirable addresses.

Commercial Activities. Forests and iron ore have enriched the economy since medieval times, and those natural resources remain important. The largest export industries today are in the engineering and high-technology sectors. These knowledge-based fields benefit from the country's massive public investment in schools and universities, which has produced a highly skilled workforce. The public-sector activities of child care, education and health care account for a significant proportion of employment.

Major Industries. The country's greatest industrial strength is in engineering and related high-technology manufacturing. Major products include telecommunications equipment, cars and trucks, airplanes, household appliances, industrial machinery, electricity generation and transmission systems, steel and high-grade steel products, armaments, paper and pulp, furniture, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

Trade. All the major industries are export-oriented and depend on economies of scale created by sales beyond the small domestic market. Pop music in English is another notable export. Major trading partners include Germany, Britain, the United States, and the Nordic neighbors. Significant imports include computers and telecommunications equipment, industrial machinery, motor vehicles, food, clothing, chemicals, and fossil fuels. Trade with developing countries has been encouraged by social democratic aid policies and, during the Cold War, by political neutrality.

Division of Labor. Career paths depend to a great extent on educational attainment. Public funding of education, including universities, has made it possible for the children of manual laborers to prepare for and obtain executive and professional positions. Opportunities for achieving high status are thus relatively equal, but persons with affluent and well-educated parents are overrepresented in elite occupations.

The Security of Employment Act of 1974 and subsequent laws limit the power of employers to fire workers at will; legislation also sets minimum periods of notice before layoffs. Adult education and retraining are widespread, encouraged by active labor-market policies that promote full employment. There is a high level of employee participation in workplace decision making, particularly in health and safety matters. More than 80 percent of workers belong to trade unions.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. The distribution of income is among the most equal in the industrialized world, although inequality rose rapidly in the 1990s. The

A mid-summer festival featuring traditional Swedish dress and activities.
A mid-summer festival featuring traditional Swedish dress and activities.
extremes of wealth and poverty have been reduced through the efforts of social democratic governments and trade unions. Manual labor is well paid, and higher education leads to relatively small monetary dividends.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Many traditional markers of social class affiliation have faded in recent decades: language reform in the early 1970s discouraged the use of the formal second-person pronoun to address persons of high standing; typically white-collar jobs in the office and service sectors have displaced much employment in traditionally working-class sectors such as factories and mines; dress standards have become less class-differentiated and more relaxed; and regional accents have been muted by a national media culture.

The one significant caste distinction is that of "Swedes" versus "immigrants," usually those from less affluent lands. This division is particularly notable in housing, as certain satellite suburbs of major cities have come to be seen as immigrant domains characterized by disorder and danger. Residents of these communities often experience a sense of exclusion, and their unemployment rates are higher. But even in the most notorious of these suburbs—Stockholm's Rinkeby—the rates of poverty and crime are relatively low.

Political Life

Government. Sweden is a parliamentary democracy with a ceremonial monarch. Four constitutional laws define the form of government and guarantee freedom of the press and of expression as well as open access to public documents. A unicameral parliament is elected by universal adult suffrage in a proportional representation system. During the current four-year term (1998–2002), seven parties share the 349 parliamentary seats. Parties typically divide into a left-leaning "socialist" bloc and a right-leaning "bourgeois" bloc; a party or coalition of parties in the more successful bloc forms an administration consisting of a prime minister and about twenty other cabinet members. Local government consists of elected county and municipal councils.

Leadership and Political Officials. Political parties are stable; five of the current seven have been represented in the parliament since 1921. The largest party, the Social Democrats, won 36 percent of the vote in the 1998 election. Closely allied with the labor movement, the Social Democrats have been in power, singly or in a coalition, for sixty of the last sixty-nine years. The current administration depends on the support of the Left Party—a democratic-socialist, eco-feminist party—and the environmentalist Green Party. The rival of this alliance is the Moderate Party, which received 23 percent of the vote in 1998. Supported by the well-to-do and by industry, the Moderates work for tax cuts, welfare-state retrenchment, and increased military expenditure. Three smaller parties—Christian Democratic, Center, and Liberal—join the Moderates in the bourgeois bloc.

Elections are noted for high voter turnout, effective shielding against corruption by monied interests, and a focus on contested issues rather than personalities. A demanding standard of financial honesty is expected of politicians, and even small-scale tax evasion or misuse of an expense account can lead to removal from office. An elected official may be unfaithful in marriage, but to get caught driving while intoxicated could mean the end of a political career.

A tradition of public access to official documents dates back to the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. Any individual has a right to see almost any document in national or local government files. There are exceptions to protect the privacy of individuals, but the state's power to classify documents as national-security secrets is strictly limited.

Social Problems and Control. The legal system is less elaborately codified than continental European systems but less reliant on case-law precedents than is Anglo-American law. New legislation is prepared with the help of official commissions of inquiry that produce exhaustive published reports. Judges, administrators, and lawyers later refer to these reports when interpreting the law. Civil and criminal cases are tried in a three-tiered court system, and a parallel system exists for proceedings concerning public administration. In certain kinds of cases, professional judges are joined on the bench by elected lay assessors ( nämndemän ) who participate in deliberations with the judges. There are no executions, and prison is reserved principally for those who commit violent crimes. Fines are issued in proportion to the income of the guilty party.

Sweden invented the ombudsman in 1809. An ombudsman is an independent public official who hears complaints from citizens, investigates abuses, and seeks to ensure that authorities follow the law and that citizens' rights are protected. In addition to four general ombudsmen appointed by the parliament, there are specialized ombudsmen for children's rights, disabled persons' rights, consumer issues, journalistic ethics, equal opportunities for women and men, prevention of ethnic discrimination, and prevention of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Scrupulous compliance with laws and social conventions is widespread because of moral pressure from fellow citizens. Considerable conscientiousness is generated by conversations between adults and children concerning moral and social issues. Violence is condemned, gun ownership is carefully regulated, and the media describes with horror the massacres that occur in other countries.

A vexing social problem during the last decade has been racist violence by right-wing extremists. A small number of young men, often from troubled homes, become "skinheads," neo-Nazis, or motorcycle-gang members. Their attacks on nonwhite immigrants and proimmigrant journalists and public servants have provoked public outrage. Antiracist sentiments are expressed in marches and rallies, journalistic reports, educational campaigns, and government investigations.

Military Activity. The nation has not been at war since 1814. An official policy of "nonalignment in peace aiming at neutrality in war" enabled the country to avoid being drawn into the twentieth century's world wars. During the Cold War, Sweden had the ability to make an atomic bomb but chose not to do so. Situated between the two antagonistic superpower blocs, the country preserved its independence by means of technologically sophisticated conventional armed forces, civilian-based defense programs, and diplomatic efforts to build solidarity among nonaligned nations as a counterbalance to the superpowers. These policies have continued, with a reduction in military expenditure, since the end of the Cold War.

Current debates concern arms manufacture and conscription. To facilitate nonalignment by avoiding dependence on foreign suppliers, the country has a robust weapons industry. It accounts for less than 1 percent of exports but is strongly opposed by the thousands of residents who engage in international peacemaking efforts. The key questions about conscription are whether to extend it to women or to abolish it in favor of professional, voluntary armed services.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

In Sweden's advanced general welfare state, communal institutions ensure the well-being and economic security of all citizens. No other country has as low a rate of poverty and social exclusion.

Health, education, and social-welfare programs are comprehensive and universal. Coverage for all citizens prevents the development of an underclass.

Pedestrians walk down a busy street in a shopping district in Göteborg.
Pedestrians walk down a busy street in a shopping district in Göteborg.
Education is free from preschool through the university level, and most medical care is free or available for negligible fees. The costs of these services are covered by a system of progressive taxation.

The combination of strong popular organizations (labor unions, political parties, and social movements) and activist state agencies provides institutional means to define and respond to social problems. Typically, debates in the media are followed by the appointment of an expert investigative commission, whose findings prompt new legislation. This approach is particularly evident in matters of health and safety.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

The labor movement has organized more than 80 percent of the nation's workers. A child of that movement and of independent evangelical churches and temperance campaigns in the early twentieth century is adult education. Roughly one-third of adults participate, most often through study circles sponsored by nonprofit organizations. Other popular associations are devoted to amateur sports, music, and the enjoyment and protection of nature.

There is a network of popular organizations concerned with international peace and justice. The country consistently has supported the United Nations and has been one of the largest providers of personnel for peacekeeping operations. Stockholm has hosted many international conferences, such as the 1996 World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. These activities foster former prime minister Olof Palme's vision of "common security," a commitment to international development and disarmament as a strategy for easing global tensions.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. No other country has a higher proportion of women as parliamentarians (43 percent) and cabinet ministers (50 percent), and Sweden leads the developed world in the percentage of professional and technical workers who are women. The proportion of women in the labor force is the highest worldwide. This is due both to job opportunities in the public sector, and to the support that sector provides to women in private firms. Public child-care institutions make it easier for women to work outside the home. Nonetheless, some occupational segregation still exists; corporate chief executives tend to be male, for example, and primary school teachers female. However, the traditionally gender professions (female child-care workers, male doctors and police officers) are becoming more equally shared.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. With a robust feminist movement, comprehensive publicly supported child care, and an unparalleled percentage of women in government, Sweden is considered a leader in gender equality. Advancement in this arena is a significant national self-stereotype, a symbol of what distinguishes Swedes from others.

Two pieces of recent legislation reflect gender attitudes. In 1995, Sweden began reserving one month of parental leave for fathers. After the birth of a child, a couple receives fifteen months of paid leave to divide between them, with one month set aside for each parent; a father who chooses not to participate forfeits the couple's parental benefit payment for that month. This policy has increased the rates of paternal participation in child care.

In 1999, Sweden became the first nation to criminalize the buyer, not the seller, of sexual services. The law's authors noted their aim of prosecuting only those they considered the exploiters (normally men), not the exploited (normally women). The sexual liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s has been replaced by laws, attitudes, and enforcement regimes that are among the most stringent in the European Union.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. The selection of romantic, sexual, and conjugal partners is a matter of individual choice. A prospective mate's personal character and appearance are important criteria, while family approval is not. Marrying for money and security is rare; the general welfare society frees individuals to base marriage on affection, not economic need.

Public schools inaugurated modern sex education in 1955. Today free or subsidized contraception allows women to postpone or limit childbearing. Abortion is permitted through the eighteenth week of pregnancy, but 93 percent of abortions are performed before the twelfth week. Roughly one of four couples consists of unmarried partners. Such nonmarital cohabitation (called sambo, or "living with") is socially accepted and has since 1988 entailed nearly the same legal rights and responsibilities as marriage.

Many sambo partners eventually marry, particularly if a child is expected or has arrived, but illegitimacy is not stigmatized. If a couple does not specify a newborn's surname, the child automatically receives the mother's surname. The divorce rate has doubled in the last thirty years. Lesbian and gay couples can have a sambo relationship or can establish a registered partnership with the same legal consequences as matrimony.

Domestic Unit. Families are predominantly nuclear rather than extended. While the two-parent household with children remains normative, the rate of single-parent households is high. No industrialized nation has a higher frequency of one-person households, which are particularly common among young adults in urban areas and among the elderly.

Women are the chief providers of social support for the young and the aged. This burden has been mitigated as women's unpaid work has been partially displaced by state-supported professional child-care and elder-care services. Patriarchal family structures have declined as traditional patterns of male authority and female economic dependency have been supplanted by a reliance on communal institutions.

Inheritance. Since 1845, sons and daughters have had equal rights to inherit. Today the law seeks an equitable balance between potential claimants. A single or widowed person's estate is divided evenly between his or her children or between other relatives. One cannot disinherit one's children: the law overrides wills and sets aside half of an estate for the descendants. Upon a married person's death, the estate belongs to the surviving spouse; when that spouse dies, the couple's children can inherit. If the deceased had children by a former marriage or relationship, they may claim a partial inheritance. Sambo relationships do not entail the same rights of survivorship.

Kin Groups. Kin solidarity is weak beyond the level of the nuclear family. Only 3 to 4 percent of elderly persons live with family members other than their spouses. Working adults typically spend time with their parents at Christmas, on birthdays and anniversaries, and during vacations; those who live in the same city as their parents may have some meals together. Detailed population records kept by the Church of Sweden make it possible for people to trace their kin over many generations.

Socialization

Infant Care. Expectant mothers are entitled to paid leave from work during the last months of pregnancy. Both parents normally attend free childbirth-education classes; most mothers and some fathers continue with parenting classes. Fathers are usually present at birth. Nearly all mothers breast-feed their babies, a practice made feasible by the fifteen months of paid parental leave per child. Breast-feeding can be done in public places without embarrassment. Parent-child cosleeping is relatively prevalent. Infants are allowed to develop at their own pace; to attempt to "discipline" them in matters that they cannot understand is considered a mark of parental ignorance.

Child Rearing and Education. Most young children spend some of their time in professional child-care settings. These institutions are publicly funded and are available to all children. Parents may choose between day-care centers, part-time children's groups, drop-in preschool activity centers, and child minders in private homes. Most of these services are municipally organized, but some take the form of nonprofit foundations, private companies, and parent cooperatives. User fees cover about 14 percent of the total costs, with tax revenues covering the rest.

Schools are well funded and of high quality. Until the late 1990s there were few private schools. The public school system emphasizes inclusive values such as aiding children with special difficulties

A worker assembles parts in an automobile plant in Göteborg. Automobile manufacturing is just one part of Sweden's highly diverse industrial base.
A worker assembles parts in an automobile plant in Göteborg. Automobile manufacturing is just one part of Sweden's highly diverse industrial base.
rather than targeting resources toward the most talented pupils. Much school activity cultivates independence and self-sufficiency. At the same time, cooperative social skills are of central importance and are nurtured in after-school activities, leisure-time centers, clubs, and sports leagues.

In 1979, the parliament passed a law forbidding corporal punishment, making Sweden the first nation in which parents were forbidden to strike their children. The law is widely known and accepted.

Literature written for children is frank, open, and nonpatronizing. This sensibility was visible in the critical social realism of many 1960s and early-1970s works, and is equally present in the more fantasy-oriented children's books of the decades before and after that period. Strong, self-reliant female characters have been a specialty; the most celebrated is Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking.

The frankness that characterizes children's literature is typical of conversations between adults and children, and parents engage in serious discussions with their children on morally charged topics ranging from fair play to drugs to sexuality (sex education begins at the age of seven). Taking children seriously is seen as a matter of basic respect for persons who exist in their own right.

Higher Education. About one in three students begins some form of higher education within five years after completing upper secondary school. Half of these students are women. Most universities and colleges are state-financed but locally administered. Free tuition and grants and loans for living expenses make higher learning available without regard to social class.

In regard to adult education, individuals have a right to continue their education in municipally organized programs, which have expanded significantly since 1997. In addition, 150 folk colleges ( folkhögskolor ) offer a wide range of state-subsidized courses for adults. Local governments, unions, churches, and voluntary associations run the folk colleges, which are usually residential and are situated in bucolic settings.

Etiquette

Much etiquette involves the ritual enactment of equality. Thanking occurs frequently, and it is common for the person being thanked to offer thanks in return. People seek to repay debts of gratitude and thus restore symmetrical relations. Conversation partners rarely interrupt one another. Politeness requires attentive listening, which is often made evident by affirmative murmurs. When people disagree, they avoid open expression of conflict.

Rigorous codes of modesty prevent interpersonal competition from sabotaging collective life. All forms of boastfulness are proscribed. Academic and corporate titles are seldom used, and conspicuous consumption is condemned. These norms are beginning to erode, however, particularly among businesspeople who participate in a transnational corporate world in which self-promotion is seen as a virtue.

Religion

Religious Beliefs. The Church of Sweden emerged as a national church during the Protestant Reformation. For centuries, this evangelical Lutheran institution had state support and cultural hegemony, although it faced competition from nonconformist churches born of nineteenth-century revival movements. In the year 2000, state and church divorced amicably, leaving the church with increased autonomy.

Eighty-five percent of the people are members of the Church of Sweden. There is considerable religious pluralism, as a result of immigration. There are an estimated 250,000 Muslims and 166,000 Roman Catholics as well as significant numbers of adherents of other religious movements. Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed.

Members of the Church of Sweden often say that they are Christian "in their own way," and are uninterested in dogma. The deepest spiritual emotions are often experienced while one is alone in nature. Lutheran ideals and Renaissance humanism have engendered a demanding social morality with an openness to scientific modernity. Boasting about one's faith is considered distasteful.

Religious Practitioners. Recent reforms have made the Church of Sweden a more democratic religious organization. Members elect a General Synod that decides questions of doctrine as well as administrative matters. Women make up 30 percent of the priesthood, a proportion that is rising. Church workers often combine pastoral labors with civic engagement, particularly in support of refugees and international aid. Pastors' presence as community leaders is most evident after collective tragedies such as fatal accidents and violent crimes.

Rituals and Holy Places. Church attendance is low except on special occasions; less than 5 percent of the members regularly attend Sunday services in the Church of Sweden. Holiday observances are more popular. Three of four infants are baptized, of whom half are later confirmed. Three of five marriages are performed by the Church of Sweden.

Death and the Afterlife. Ninety percent of funerals take place in the Church of Sweden. The practical arrangements usually are handled by a national organization that is part of the cooperative movement. Autopsies are common to determine the cause of death, embalming is rare, and cremation is prevalent. Graveyards are noted for their natural beauty. Many individuals believe that death involves losing one's individual existence while becoming part of something greater.

Medicine and Health Care

Sweden's health- and safety-conscious society invests heavily in preventive public-health measures. Educational campaigns promote healthy lifestyles. Individuals can choose their own physicians, and medical visits are free or subject to a nominal charge. As a result of this egalitarian system, social-class differences in health are small. Nonetheless, these differences have grown in the past decade, because of rising income inequality and cutbacks in public budgets. Health care accounts for 7 to 8 percent of the gross national product, not counting the country's massive investments in medical research.

Secular Celebrations

New Year's Day (1 January) is welcomed at midnight by ships' horns and civil-defense sirens. Public bonfires illuminate Walpurgis Night (30 April), a celebration popular among university students. On 1 May, trade unionists, Social Democrats, and their allies march through the cities to express solidarity and protest injustices. The National Day is observed on 6 June. Midsummer (near the summer solstice in June) is a long-awaited holiday of eating, drinking, and dancing, rivaled in importance only by Christmas. August brings crayfish parties. United Nations Day (24 October) is marked mainly in schools. Halloween (31 October) is a recent import. The world's most prestigious scientific and literary prizes are presented by the king on Nobel Day (10 December). Candle-lit pageants break the winter darkness on Lucia Day (13 December). Other significant observances include birthdays (with a special jubilee at age fifty), name days, secondary-school graduation, royal fetes, and the long summer vacation. Widely celebrated religious holidays include Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and Christmas.

A ship on the Göta Canal, which travels the entire width of Sweden between Stockholm and Göteborg.
A ship on the Göta Canal, which travels the entire width of Sweden between Stockholm and Göteborg.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. Artists are not completely dependent on commercial sales and wealthy patrons. Public funding encourages their work, and the security provided by the general welfare society frees them to take aesthetic risks without fear of destitution. One result is an artistic community known for avant-garde innovation.

Support is channeled through various public and partially public institutions. Recipients range from preeminent national museums to small literary magazines that could not survive without subsidies. Popular participation is also promoted: cultural centers, public libraries, and communal music schools give citizens an opportunity to exercise their creativity.

Literature. Among the most eminent modern authors are August Strindberg, Selma Lagerlöf, Pär Lagerkvist, and Harry Martinson. The most influential living writer is Astrid Lindgren, whose stories are familiar to children in many countries. A genre of particular note is the literary documentary tradition, in which authors since the 1960s have reported on the lives of ordinary people. The common elements of the national literature include a brooding seriousness about social and existential questions, an appreciation of nature, and an avoidance of psychoanalytic speculation.

Graphic Arts. A 1934 parliamentary act stipulated that 1 percent of the expenditure on new public buildings be devoted to works of art. The country's most famous sculptor was Carl Milles, who produced gravity-defying forms. The loving depictions of children and domestic life by the painter Carl Larsson are popular with Swedes and tourists nostalgic for a rural past. It is for design that Sweden is most famous, particularly in wood and glass but also in other media. The interplay of handicraft traditions and social democratic ideals has led to world-renowned work in industrial design, ergonomics, child safety, and products for the disabled.

Performance Arts. Celebrated performers include the soprano Jenny Lind, the film and theater director Ingmar Bergman, and the pop musicians ABBA. The country seldom produces superstars with astronomical incomes. Resources are instead used to provide steady salaries and benefits to ordinary actors, dancers, and musicians, giving them a basic level of security. State subsidies make possible a similar egalitarianism in ticket prices: traditionally upper-class pleasures such as opera, ballet, and theater are affordable to all.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

A tradition of technocratic planning, widespread respect for professional expertise, and an increasingly high-technology economy encourage investment in research. Public funding is crucial, and it is administered through national research councils, universities, and specialized institutes. Natural science is quite advanced, particularly as applied in engineering and medicine. Swedish social scientists are noted for their positivistic methodologies, which demand meticulous data collection. Thanks to the Nobel Prizes, foreign laureates and hopefuls maintain ties with their colleagues in Sweden. The Right Livelihood Award, or "Alternative Nobel Prize," honors work that grapples with pressing human problems. In science as in politics, solving such problems is a national preoccupation.

Bibliography

Arter, David. Scandinavian Politics Today, 1999.

Boli, John. New Citizens for a New Society: The Institutional Origins of Mass Schooling in Sweden, 1989.

Bråkenhielm, Carl Reinhold. "Christian Tradition and Contemporary Society." Concilium 256: 23–34,1994.

Croall, Stephen. "A New Swedish Model: Safe, Clean Food." Scandinavian Review 87 (3): 25–32, 2000.

Daun, Åke. Swedish Mentality, Jan Teeland, trans., 1996.

Frykman, Jonas, and Orvar Löfgren. Culture Builders: A Historical Anthropology of Middle-Class Life, Alan Crozier, trans., 1987.

Hall, Peter. Cities in Civilization: Culture, Innovation, and Urban Order, 1998.

Hannerz, Ulf. Transnational Connections: Culture, People, Places, 1996.

Herlitz, Gilles. Swedes: What We Are Like and Why We Are as We Are, 1995.

Löfgren, Orvar. On Holiday: A History of Vacationing, 1999.

Misgeld, Klaus, Karl Molin, and Klas Åmark, eds. Creating Social Democracy: A Century of the Social Democratic Labor Party in Sweden, 1993.

Orfali, Kristina. "The Rise and Fall of the Swedish Model."

Arthur Goldhammer, trans. In Antoine Prost and Gérard Vincent, eds., A History of Private Life, 1991.

Palmer, Brian. "Wolves at the Door: Existential Solidarity in a Globalizing Sweden." Ph.D. dissertation. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 2000.

Popenoe, David. "Family Decline in the Swedish Welfare State." The Public Interest, 102: 65–77, 1991.

Pred, Allan. Even in Sweden: Racisms, Racialized Spaces, and the Popular Geographical Imagination, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Rothstein, Bo. Just Institutions Matter: The Moral and Political Logic of the Universal Welfare State, 1998.

Ruth, Arne. "The Second New Nation: The Mythology of Modern Sweden." In Stephen R. Graubard, ed., Norden—The Passion for Equality, 1986.

Scott, Franklin D. Sweden: The Nation's History, 1988.

Sontag, Susan. "Letter from Sweden." Ramparts, July 1969.

Stromberg, Peter. Symbols of Community: The Cultural System of a Swedish Church, 1986.

Sverne, Tor. "Children's Rights in Scandinavia in a Legal and Historical Perspective." Family and Conciliation Courts Review 31 (3): 299–312, 1993.

Trägårdh, Lars. "Welfare State Nationalism: Sweden and the Specter of the European Union." Scandinavian Review 87 (1): 18–23, 1999.

Web Sites

Nordic News Network. http://www.nnn.se

Statistics Sweden. Sweden in Figures 2000, http://www.scb.se/indexeng.htm

Swedish Institute. Factsheets on Sweden series. http://www.si.se/infosweden

—B RIAN C. W. P ALMER



User Contributions:

lulu
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Oct 25, 2006 @ 8:20 pm
you have a helpful report on sweden! it helped me on my report so much. my report's due on monday, october30, 2006
Maria
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Nov 16, 2006 @ 2:14 pm
I thought this article was EXTREMELY informative and helpful in allowing me to learn about Sweden. I appreciate your effort and knowledge. Thank you.
Peter
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Apr 27, 2008 @ 10:10 am
Being a Swede myself, it certainly feels great reading this text. It seems as though Sweden is a country with absolutely no problems at all, except perhaps a growing racist movement. That's not really the picture here in Sweden, so by reading texts like this you get a totally new perspective. I guess I'm quite lucky to be born a Swede, compared to other nationalities.

I have a couple of comments though. First of all, it needs to be updated. Astrid Lindgren sadly died a couple of years ago, and second, the ruling party today is the bourgouis alliance, put together by the moderates, the liberals, the center and the christian democrats, which have resulted in a sharp political turn right. The markets for healthcare and schooling systems have been opened for competition by private entrepreneurs, there have been discussions as to whether sweden should join NATO, etcetera.

Also, there's a huge difference in income between the North of Sweden and the South. The North is a net exporter of raw materials such as timber, electricity and ore, to the South which consumes it. This makes up for a colonial system where value continuously transfers from the North to the South of Sweden, making the people living around Stockholm and beyond rich and the people up here poor. The difference in wealth between the average inhabitant in the richest and the poorest municipalities (Danderyd and Jokkmokk, respectively) in Sweden is almost 4 million crowns (roughly $800.000).

I'm not sure if it's important to mention, but it would make the picture of Sweden a little more... balanced. It's a great country to live in, but by reading this text it seems like paradise on earth, which it isn't.
mike demoulpied
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May 19, 2008 @ 8:08 am
this website helped me do my report on sweden also
Caroline
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Apr 7, 2009 @ 10:10 am
This was very helpful. I needed a project completed and this website helped so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!
suckle
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Jun 11, 2009 @ 12:12 pm
too long but helpful. i mean come on make it shorter.
Butterfly
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Dec 5, 2009 @ 2:14 pm
It was very helpful, but the language section was too short!
Fredrik
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Jan 3, 2010 @ 7:19 pm
I'm impressed how well you pinpointed and found the essentials about Sweden. I'm Swede and recognice and agree to the description of all our small, but nice country in this text.


Regards
Fredrik
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Mar 11, 2010 @ 7:07 am
This text really is helpful.
I still needed a lot of information about Sweden and a Swede mailed me this site.
Thanks so much for putting your time in gathering all of this information!
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Apr 14, 2010 @ 8:20 pm
Thank You!! I had an assignment due that entailed information about cultural values and attitudes in which i thought i would never find (especially all on one website) thankgs again for taking the time to gather that information
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May 2, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
this was good and it helped me to do my crazy insane project. thanks buds for the info. it helped a lot and i appreciate your great stuff that you wrote about sweden because sweden is cool and i had o do a project on sweden, sweden is cool because it is sweden and i like sweden because of sweden stuff, i like sweden stuff like sweden.
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May 3, 2010 @ 3:03 am
it would have helped if it talked about how they used to build houses and architecture when they first came to sweden.
mary
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Jul 14, 2010 @ 12:12 pm
Quality articles like this are rare to find.Thankyou for the great job.
Emmie
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Oct 21, 2010 @ 5:17 pm
Love this bro! using it for mi project on European/Scandinavian countries
Donna
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Feb 5, 2011 @ 12:12 pm
I was wondering about the Stieg Larsson books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Girl Who Played with Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest). I didn't see it listed here as far as literature nor for him being a well-known author. Is this because the website has not been updated or purposefully left out or do Swedes particularly not care for the work? Thanks, Donna
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Feb 14, 2011 @ 5:17 pm
Frm:Martin luther .Infact this article has highlited a lot about what i wanted to learn about Sweden,a place my heart longs to see.It's great to be a swedish but i'm proud to be an African (GHANAIAN)
Niwat
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Feb 20, 2011 @ 11:11 am
I think this is great information and its really honestly helped me, Thank you very much.
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Mar 15, 2011 @ 9:09 am
This info will give you enofe info on you Sweden Project. I hope you get good info from this page!
maddy
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Apr 28, 2011 @ 9:21 pm
thank you i am a swede my self so this article was very interesting i have a report due on may 20th 2011 so this helped so much i have everything i needed except a couple things but anyway thank you(:
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Jun 10, 2011 @ 8:08 am
wow this gave em alot of information on my research report this articale was very intresting it is 1 of the best information i got from i just note can you put information on the traditional clothings please hope you add but anyway everything was great
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Aug 13, 2011 @ 5:17 pm
THANKU SO MUCH 4 THIS IN4MATION IT HELPED ME WITH MY PROJECT SO MUCH
David Carlson
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Aug 25, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
I too found your report on Sweden to be well done, and reasonably comprehensive. A am an American whose paternal great-grandfather and grandfather emigrated from Sweden in 1973, and am writing a family history that deals in part with our roots in Sweden, and ways of living transplanted to America. I would agree that you need to update your report up through 2010, and urge you to permit it to be updated by a successor once you are too old or choose to retire from the task. What you have is good, but it needs to be maintained and updated going forward to keep it current and preserve the excellence you have achieved.
David Carlson
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Aug 25, 2011 @ 2:14 pm
You mentioned that "In the year 2000, state and church divorced amicably." The census of the population had long been carried out by an office within each Church of Sweden parish. Is that still the case (since the church needs such records also) or has this function been transferred to municipal or regional governmental bodies?
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Sep 1, 2011 @ 8:08 am
Hi. This article had very good explanation. Thanks to this article editor. Can add somemore picture to each heading to make awesome.
Butch
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Sep 4, 2011 @ 10:10 am
Nice easy Reading,Informative and pleasurable. It felt like I was in Goteborg while reading and learning about the beautiful culture of Sweden as a whole.
Katherine
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Sep 11, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
I am always seeing to learn about my heritage and really appreciated this 'to the point' outline.
Thankyou.
I would love to find out more about where I could buy Swedish products.
Megan
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Oct 30, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
This was great! helped me a lot. though i would liked to see more info on women in the country and more recent stuff, but still, it was short and sweet and to the point. thanks for taking the time.
monir
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Dec 16, 2011 @ 1:01 am
hi i am forigner i wanna to go sweden for study and work .but i don't know how many monthly income pls help me anyone
Lisa
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Jan 14, 2012 @ 4:16 pm
The military has since the text was written become a volunteer service, the military people are now referred to as "employees" instead of enlisted.
And I'm sorry, former commenter, but mentioning Stieg Larsson in this text seems rather silly. Why would someone be mentioned next to Nobel laureates, just for writing popular books?
Susan
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Feb 14, 2012 @ 8:20 pm
Hi, my daughter was asked to come to Sweden to curl as a 5th player at the World Junior Event in March 2012! My concern is that she has a life threatening allergy to all Dairy products and dairy by products! Which means anything that contains milk protein in it I.e. whey powder , caseine! She cannot have any form of any dairy ingredient! Would this allergy be accommodated for her and would she safely be able to eat in Sweden! We her parents would not be ale to accompany her on this journey!
robert
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Mar 26, 2012 @ 2:14 pm
very good report it helped my report a lot i just hope i didnt miss anyhing good cus i wanna get a good grade so i can go to 7th grade
Carly
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Apr 11, 2012 @ 9:21 pm
I hope i got everything for 8 grade to go to high school
S
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May 16, 2012 @ 7:07 am
Great article!
I am, as some who have comented before me, a swede, living in sweden.
And also as many before me I went online googleling swedish culture, and this article was very helpful.
Donna: I know this is a few years after your comment, but you are correct. Stieg Larsson may not have won the nobel prize, but in modern popular swedish litterature he is highly regarded. However he has become popular in the most recent years and that may be the reson why he is not included in this article.

Also, regarding Peter's comment. No place is perfect, but I must say Sweden is a much greater place to be than most Swedes realize. We take it for granted and we like to whine and complain. If you want to know what Sweden is like you'd be better off asking a foreigner...

Susan: I hold no promises, but I can almost certainly assure you your daughter will get milk protein free food. As far as I know it is fairly easy to get specially needed food, such as lactose free, vegan and or vegetarian etc.

Some things to ponder over:
•Swedes rarely celebrate their national day, in fear of being considered racists
•We are well famous for our skills in hockey. My skills are non-existing of course, but let's face it: We were the first country ever to win World Championship AND the Olympics i the same year

And finally some very swedish things:
•Systembolaget (a company who was monopoly on selling alcohole over a certain percentage)
•Fika (from word kafi; kaffe=coffee, meaning: socialize in i.e. a café. we love to fika
•Five weeks payed vacation
•Swedish snuff
•Moos-hunting
•A king who holds no power
•30% tax
•Jantelagen (basically means you cannot say you are better than anyone else)
•Allemansrätten (the right to travel across and/or TEMPORARILY stay at someones private land, i.e. for the purpose of picking mushrooms or berries, possibly set up a camp for one night before being on ones way.[with certain obligations towards surrounding nature, animals and landowners)

Hope that helps!
tyler
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May 30, 2012 @ 8:08 am
this website was great help 4 my project but u need 2 talk about the clothing and what they wear
Anne
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Jul 3, 2012 @ 1:13 pm
Thank you SO much for this article! I will be studying abroad in Sweden spring semester 2013 so this is really helpful.
shyla
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Jul 13, 2012 @ 11:11 am
thank you fr this website its very helpful for my report on sweden
Eryn
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Aug 10, 2012 @ 3:03 am
Thanks about the information, I am Indonesian and i am interested to learn other culture especialy about Sweden, hope someday i can visit the country which famous with its beautiful place, and clean...
Tafarel
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Aug 29, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
It's an interesting composition if you want to know more about others cultures.Congratulations!
Julie
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Jan 26, 2013 @ 8:08 am
I'm an American descended from 3 Swedish grandparents and 1 Norwegian grandfather. My Scandinavian heritage is strong--not due to genetics, but to the values they passed to my parents and my parents to me. I often wish I could immigrate back to these lands, as your ethos and politics resonate more closely with how I want to live in this world, rather than the American way. The US did not provide my family with a better life.
MARK
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Feb 19, 2013 @ 10:10 am
hey take a look at this and let me know if you need anymore information
Austin
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Oct 4, 2013 @ 12:12 pm
thanks for this information it helped a lot. when are you gonna post more? :D
liza
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Oct 24, 2013 @ 9:21 pm
love the article it really helped with my project on Sweden!!
Wilhelmina
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Nov 18, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
Thanks for the information. I never knew much about Sweden but this article gave
gave me so much insight of the Swedish culture.
harriet
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Dec 2, 2013 @ 11:11 am
wow very helpful i have a history project and you don't know hoe helpful you've been THANKS! ;)
Luke Powell
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Dec 11, 2013 @ 7:07 am
Thanks, your the bomb. This helped a lot with my history project.
Stardestroyer69
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Dec 11, 2013 @ 8:08 am
this is real good filled with fun facts haha sweden in my no 1 destination
Janet
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Dec 31, 2013 @ 4:16 pm
Thank God for this article. Your article has helped me so much, I can tell that you put a lot effort into it. But, however, I do think that some parts could be longer.
ivan ahmed
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Feb 12, 2014 @ 6:06 am
Thanks for this informative article . I personally enjoyed it .
A very warm welcome for the people of Sweden .
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Feb 13, 2014 @ 8:20 pm
I like this article. It makes me know a lot about Sweden. I hope Sweden would be more beautiful.

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