Almost paradise a look at life in contemporary sweden from a citizen s perspective
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ALMOST PARADISE? A look at life in contemporary Sweden from a citizen’s perspective . Memphis in May International Teacher’s Conference Focus on Sweden Memphis, TN February 23, 2013 Susan L. Holmberg, Ph.D. Visiting Scholar, Department of Scandinavian Studies University of Washington

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ALMOST PARADISE?A look at life in contemporary Sweden from a citizen’s perspective

Memphis in May International Teacher’s Conference

Focus on Sweden

Memphis, TN

February 23, 2013

Susan L. Holmberg, Ph.D.

Visiting Scholar, Department of Scandinavian Studies

University of Washington

Seattle, WA


  • “Utopian” aspects of life in Sweden (from US perspective)

    • Health care

    • Family policy

    • Democracy

  • Shadows on the horizon


”Health care: Equal access — key to keeping Sweden healthy”

Everyone in Sweden has equal access to healthcare services under a largelydecentralized, taxpayer-funded system. Like manyothercountries, Sweden facesnumerouschallenges, such as funding, quality and efficiency of itshealthcare services.”

(from FactSheet on Health Care, Swedish Institute,


Price Ceilings(in US Dollars)

Conversion rate:

SEK 100 = $15.13

Averagenetannualincome in Sweden = $ 34, 920

What the pharmacisttoldme…

After explaining my initial idea of askingpharmacycustomers to guesshowmuchAmericanspay for the medicationsthey are picking up, a pharmacisttoldme:

”Theywon’t be able to make a guessbecausetheydon’tneed to thinkabout it like that. There is a priceceilingabovewhichtheydo not spendanymoney, regardless of the type of medicine.”

Exactceilinglevel is set at the county or municipal level: no higherthan SEK 2,200 ($328.00) per year

”The best feature of the Swedish system is…”

Male, 20’s

..that it doesn’tcostmoney, you just payonefee and it’sprotected

Male, 50’s

…that it is available to everyone – everyone has a right to healthcare

Male, 60’s

..that it is open for everyone, regardless of your social position, it makes no differenceif you are rich or poor

Female, 20’s

..that you don’thave to paymuch, like in someothercountries…

Male, 70’s

...when you are sick you are well taken care of – oneneedneverworry that onecannotaffordcare

Female, 70’s

…all citizens are covered, if you are bornhere you have a right to it

”The worst feature of the Swedish system is…”

Male, 20’s

..that it can be unevenquality at different clinics…

Male, 50’s

…the longwaiting periods, several hands workingtogether so it takes time (?)

Female, 20’s depends, I’veheard bad thingsaboutsomeclinicswheretheydon’tgreet you well

Male, 60’s

..that doctors are not on a fixedschedule like otherhealthcareemployees – most Landsting don’thaveenoughdoctors, causeslongwaits

Male, 70’s

…that everything is beingcut back to savemoneybecause of the increasingcosts, new machines, equipment so expensive

Female, 70’s

…that it’sgottenworse over time, longwaiting periods, lines, even cancer carecantake up to 2 or weeks..


Child Allowance

All children are entitled to tax-free allowance ($164/mo) until the age of 16*

* Note that additionalmoney is given per additionalchild


At 16, children in schoolreceivestudyallowance (SEK 1050/mo exceptJuly and August) untilthey are 20 yearsold, providedthey are studying full time

Paid Parental Leave

  • A total of 480 paiddaysprovided to parents

Free Daycare

  • Children between the ages of 1 and 5

  • National standards

Free Education

Tuition-freeschooling from primarythrough PhD levels

Free lunch for K-12



Sweden maintainsrelatively high levels of voterturnout, generallyabove 80% over the past 60+ years


Proportional Representation system with 4% minimum to gain representation in Parliament (or local, regional legislatures)

Party Distribution in Parliamentfollowing 2010 election


  • All partiesreceivefunding for electioncampaign

  • Interest representation generallyinclusive, collective – lobbying in the US sensedoes not exist

  • Restrictions on politicaladvertising on commercial (and public service) television and radio – campaigns not dominated by TV ads as in US

  • In Sweden, money is not as necessary a precondition for politicalmobilization as it is in the US

Independent, accountable media

Public service broadcasting in Sweden is oldest and mosttrustworthysource of political information

Financial and editorialindependence

  • Funded 100% by licensefees (BBC model), not taxes or advertising

  • This keepsbroadcast budgets independent of politicalalignments in Parliament

  • It alsomaintainsindependence from corporations (i.e no advertising)

Accountability and transparency

Because it is funded by the public, program content must maintaincertain standards of quality and responsibility – in news reporting, standards of impartiality and substance are required


Health care

  • Aging population with low population growth

  • Increasingcosts for medicalequipment and medication

  • Provision of qualityacross the board, in urban and rural areas, wealthier and poorerneighborhoods

  • Recruitment of qualitymedicalpersonnel – doctors, nurses, technicians and homehelp/eldercare

Family Policy

  • ”benefitsaddiction”? Extensive and generous universal benefits are costly, butexpectation and sense of entitlement are deeplyentrenched

  • ”curling generation” might not be motivated to work, sacrifice for others

  • Parental leavecreatesuneven pockets in the workforce, increasesneed for temporaryworkers


  • Recent decadeshaveseenrise in right wing extremism, reactionsagainstinflux of immigrants and refugees – Sweden Democrat Party nowestablished in Parliament and regional governments

  • ”American style” politics in the form of lobbying and politicaladvertising are edginginto the Swedish system

  • The media landscape is rapidlychanging, becomingincreasinglycommercial - public service is struggling to maintainitsprominence and the licensefee is a recurringissue


  • To an American, life in Sweden canseem like a dream or fantasy wheremany of the economicburdens of everyday life simplydon’texist

  • Health care is practicallyfreeacross the board, with priceceilings and protections, along with guarantees of qualitytreatment for all

  • All childrenreceivemoneyeachmonth and freeschool lunch, along with freeschooling, and parents are given a year and a half of paidleavewhen a child is born

  • Politicalparticipation is widespread and inclusive, and politicaldiscoursetakesplace in a (relatively) responsible and ethical media environment

  • One of the mainchallenges for the future is maintaining this high level of universal benefits and guarantees, all of which are tax-based – without universal benefits, the consensus to contribute (and receivebenefits) mayerode

  • Another major challenge to the Swedish ”paradise” is creepingintoleranceagainst ”outsiders”, particularlynon-Europeanethnicgroups, as competition for scarceresourcesincreases

For more information, try the followinglinks

  • - The Swedish Institute Home Page (Gatewayto Sweden)

  • – The Swedish Parliament – the Riksdag

  • — The Swedish National Institute of Public Health

  • — Statistics Sweden

  • - The Swedish Social Insurance Agency

  • — The Swedish Association of LocalAuthorities and Regions

  • — The National Board of Health and Welfare

  • — The Government Offices of Sweden

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