Photo: Ulf Huett Nilsson/imagebank.sweden.se
Meet the family
Let’s call the Andersson mother Maria, the most common name among women born in 1969. It’s actually a very common name altogether, so don’t be surprised if you meet lots of Marias. Her husband may be called Fredrik, a typical name for men born in 1971. We’ll round up the 1.55 children (average for a man born in 1971) to two: a 13-year-old daughter called Julia and her 10-year-old brother William. There you go – a statistically certified Swedish family. But no, not really.
In 2010 only about a third of the population were married. This is partly because many couples in Sweden live together without being married, which is called a sambo relationship. This is possibly a manifestation of Swedes’ love of individual freedom. While Maria is older than Fredrik in the Andersson case, this is an exception; it’s more common for the man to be older than the woman in a relationship. But looking at the average age for women and men separately, the women are older because of women’s higher life expectancy, 84 years compared with 80 for men (2012).
Did you know that working parents in Sweden are entitled to stay at home for 480 days with each child? When Julia and William were born, their mother was on paid parental leave for ten months and their father for eight months. You’re wondering how their father’s colleagues reacted? Not at all. They might, on the other hand, have been shocked if he hadn’t used his right to parental leave, considering that gender equality is so firmly rooted in Swedish society.
With Maria and Fredrik going back to work, the children attended nursery school (preschool), just like most young Swedish children. That costs a maximum of SEK 1,260 per child per month – just a little more than the monthly child allowance that parents automatically receive from the Swedish state – and allows both parents to combine working life with family life.
For everyone between the ages of seven and sixteen, compulsory school is on the schedule. So from the beginning of autumn term in August to the end of spring term in June, Julia and William spend Monday to Friday in school – apart from during the holidays in between.
Sweden tries hard to be an equal society, which is one reason why everyone has a right to education. No one is left behind; the Swedish Education Act states that children in need of special assistance at school should receive it. All children are offered free schooling, including lunch. But as you know, there is no such a thing as a free lunch; it’s all paid for by the parents’ taxes.
After the ninth school year, almost all Swedes continue to non-compulsory upper secondary school (high school). And about a quarter of all Swedes between 25 and 64 have also studied at university.
Working in Sweden
As a Swede, it’s easy to take 25 days of holiday a year for granted. But the fact is that employees in Sweden enjoy some of the highest benefits in the world in terms of holidays, healthcare, pension schemes and employment protection. A long history of labour market co-operation between trade unions and employers has made that possible.
A typical Swedish man works in the manufacturing industry, earning an average of SEK 33,305 per month. The largest share of working Swedish women is found in the healthcare sector, where they have an average salary of SEK 24,176 per month.
Most Swedes take a longer summer holiday. Children are free from school and business really slows down; foreigners often get the impression that Sweden closes down altogether in July. And Swedes somehow expect others to respect that.
Social security and healthcare
Should Maria or Fredrik Andersson have the bad fortune of losing their job, they will receive unemployment pay linked to their previous salary, because they are members of an unemployment insurance program. Without insurance, they would still be entitled to an activity grant from the Social Insurance Agency, but that would mean less money.
Similarly, if they fall ill and can’t go to work, it’s not a financial disaster. Sick-leave pay from their employer amounts to about 80 per cent of their salary (apart from the first day, when they don’t get paid at all). When they go to see a doctor, they only pay a fee of between SEK 100 and 200 depending on the county, or a maximum of SEK 300 for a specialist visit.
Last updated: 28 November 2014