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10 things that make Sweden family-friendly

Swedish income taxes are high – granted. But a large share goes into providing a work–life balance within society. When it comes to choosing a place to start a family, Sweden has plenty of winning arguments. Here are ten of them.

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Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/imagebank.sweden.se

#1 Special care for expectant mothers

Before a baby is born, expectant mothers in Sweden get prenatal care through free or subsidised courses that help them prepare for the delivery, with breathing techniques, coaching sessions and group support.

Women who work typically strenuous jobs that require heavy lifting or in risky work environments such as construction sites are entitled to additional pregnancy benefits (graviditetspenning) by taking time off work earlier during their pregnancy. Benefits can be paid as early as 60 days (two months) into the pregnancy and continue up to 11 days before the due date. The amount received is roughly 80 per cent of the mother’s daily pay and is paid by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan).

Many Swedish hospitals have adjoining ‘hotels’ where new mothers and their partners may stay for two or three days (with all meals included) after a birth so nurses can monitor the mothers and provide postnatal care for newborns.

#2 A very long paid parental leave

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. This number is super high by international standards (see the infographic below) and is perhaps Sweden’s most famous argument when it comes to being a child-friendly system.

For 390 of the days, parents are entitled to nearly 80 per cent of their normal pay. Benefits are calculated on a maximum monthly income of SEK 37,083, as of 2013. The remaining 90 days are paid at a flat rate. Those who are not in employment are also entitled to paid parental leave.

Parental leave can be taken up until a child turns eight. The leave entitlement applies to each child (except in the case of multiple births), so parents can accumulate leave from several children.

Outside the 480 paid days, parents in Sweden also have the legal right to reduce their normal working hours by up to 25 per cent until the child turns eight. Do keep in mind, however, that you get paid only for the time you work.

For more detailed information, go to npr.org.

#3 Gender equality on the agenda

Walk around any Swedish city or town and you’re likely to find fathers pushing prams and sharing coffee with each other while feeding their babies in cafés and parks. Yes, Sweden is home both to latte moms and latte dads. Here, as one journalist put it, men can have it all.

In Sweden’s efforts to achieve gender equality, each parent is entitled to 240 of the 480 days of paid parental leave. Each parent has two months reserved exclusively for him or her. Should a father – or a mother for that matter – decide not to take them, they cannot be transferred to the partner.

Today, men in Sweden take nearly a quarter of all parental leave – a figure the government hopes to improve. It provides a gender equality bonus (jämställdhetsbonus), an extra daily payment, if 270 days of the paid parental leave are divided evenly between mother and father.

#4 Monthly allowance for children

Aside from paid leave, the government provides an additional monthly child allowance (barnbidrag) until a child reaches the age of 16. In 2013, this allowance is SEK 1,050 per month per child, money parents can use to help with the costs of caring for their children.

If you have more than one child, you also get an extra family supplement (flerbarnstillägg), which increases further with each additional child. So, as of 2013, a family with six children receives not only SEK 6,300 extra per month in child allowance, but also an additional SEK 4,114 per month in family supplement simply because they have six children.

Residents of Sweden don’t have to worry about putting money aside for their childen’s education – schooling is free.

Photo: Lena Granefelt/imagebank.sweden.se

#5 Free schooling

You can send your child to preschool (förskola) for a maximum cost of SEK 1,260 per month, so many families choose to use their monthly child allowance to help offset this cost.

As a resident of Sweden, you don’t have to worry about putting money aside for your child’s education: School for children aged 6 to 19 (preschool class through upper secondary school) is free of charge, with free lunches.

The free education continues into university for students from the EU, but fees apply to students from outside the EU/EEA.

#6 Healthcare is nearly free

Healthcare (including dental care) is essentially free in Sweden until the age of 20, although it depends slightly on the municipality. Infants get free Vitamin D drops until the age of two – important in Sweden’s cold climate.

From the age of 20, a visit to the doctor will cost you SEK 100-200, depending on where you live, while a specialist consultation costs a maximum of SEK 300. If you incur SEK 1,100 in fees in one year (a 12-month period, not necessarily a calendar year), a high-cost protection (högkostnadsskydd) scheme provides free care for the remainder of that year.

If you fall sick and can’t work, you’re entitled to paid sick leave (except the first day you are off work) so you can concentrate on getting better. The payment is the equivalent of about 80 per cent of your normal income, based on a nominal salary that in 2013 could be up to a maximum of SEK 27,800 before tax.

#7 Free public bus rides with prams

As well as public places, transportation and buildings that are accessible for those with families and disabilities, Sweden has an innate thoughtfulness that helps make it family-friendly.

In some Swedish cities – capital Stockholm being one of them – parents pushing infants and toddlers in prams and buggies can ride for free on public buses, and can board using the large doors in the middle of the bus. This means parents don’t have to leave their pram or buggy-borne child unattended in the back of the bus while having to pay the driver.

Sweden has a strong literary culture geared towards children.

Photo: Kristin Lidell/imagebank.sweden.se

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#8 Classic children’s literature and libraries

Running out of ideas for keeping your child busy? Sweden has a strong literary culture geared towards children. In 2011 alone, around 1,740 books for children, preteens and teenagers were published in Sweden.

There are child-specific libraries around the country such as Rum för Barn (‘Room for Kids’, web information only in Swedish) in Stockholm which has children’s books in different languages as well as activities such as painting, crafts and sing-alongs.

Sweden has also produced world-renowned authors like literary icon Astrid Lindgren and Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, both of whom penned classic children’s books.

Lindgren created perhaps the most iconic of children’s characters, Pippi Longstocking, and the legacy of the author extends well beyond just books. Places such as Junibacken in Stockholm and Astrid Lindgren’s World in Vimmerby, a town in southern Sweden, are Lindgren-themed attractions, with vibrant settings, live performances and a host of other characters from her books such as Karlsson on the Roof and Emil of Lönneberga.

Other notable Swedish authors in children’s literature include Gunilla Bergström with her character Alfie Atkins (Alfons Åberg), Sven Nordqvist with his Pettsson and Findus stories,  Anders Jacobsson and Sören Olsson who created the Sune books, and Martin Widmark with the LasseMaja detective series.

#9 Baby-friendly public areas

From pram ramps to playgrounds and dedicated park sections for children, Sweden has a lot of family-friendly public areas and features. Most shopping centres and libraries have nursing rooms for infants and changing tables in shared bathrooms.

Many libraries also have a designated pram parking spot where you can comfortably park your pram or buggy. When dining out, most restaurants will provide a high chair for babies and toddlers, and many also have changing tables in the toilets.

#10 Staying home with sick children

If you need to pick the children up early from preschool or take a few days off work when a child is sick, most Swedish companies are flexible regarding parental duties, and employees still get 80 per cent of their pay when they have to stay home with sick children or dependents.

This temporary parental leave (tillfällig föräldrapenning) is available for up to 120 days per child per year for children under 12 years. Children aged 12-15 require a doctor’s certificate.

Parents whose children are sick or disabled for more than six months can also receive an additional allowance until the child turns 19.

Last updated: 25 March 2014

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Lola Akinmade-Åkerström is a Stockholm-based freelance writer and photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, BBC and CNN among others. She's the editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm, contributes as a photojournalist to the Swedish Red Cross and has also been Sweden.se’s photoblogger.