Swedish Language Blog

Is Sweden an equal country? Posted by on Mar 8, 2010 in Culture

Sweden is often praised as the utopia of equality and in some aspects, yes, Sweden has come a very long way and is by far much more equal than many other countries. Swedish women have the same rights as Swedish men. We have laws concerning equality (jämställdhet)  in the working life, we have an Equal Opportunities Ombudsman (JÄMO), we have paternity leave (pappaledighet), we have an almost 50/50 government (although we have never had a female prime minister).  But –  it’s far from perfect up there. So, the simple answer to the question above is no. Sweden is not an equal country and won’t be as long as the statistics show the following:

* Swedish women on average earn 84,2 percent as much as men. Thirty years ago, this probably could be blamed on the fact that women normally had less education then men, but today, there are more women than men studying at the University. Also, in female dominated professions (kvinnodominerande yrken), salaries are generally lower.

* If you were to take a close look at the 50 biggest companies in Sweden, you would find only ONE female director. The boards consist of 79 percent men.

* Even though Swedish men can take paternity leave and the mum and dad can divide the days between them as they like – nearly 80 percent of the days are taken by women.

* During one week, Swedish men do 20 hours of chores around the house. Women do 28.

* Almost every other Swedish woman (46 percent) over 15 has been threatened and abused by a man.

Four years ago, the Swedish government set up a goal in order to make society more equal; Women and men shall have the same power to form the society and to form their own lives. In order to achieve this, women and men must have the same rights, possibilities and obligations within all aspects of life. Great goal, isn’t it? Four years on, we are not exactly there. And let’s be honest, we probably won’t be there in four years time either. Not in Sweden, not anywhere. But baby steps are taken all across the globe and hey, Kathryn Bigelow did win an Oscar yesterday, the first female director ever to get one… There might be hope, after all.

Happy International Women’s Day, whereever in the world you are!

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  1. BM:

    “* Swedish women on average earn 84,2 percent as much as men. Thirty years ago, this probably could be blamed on the fact that women normally had less education then men, but today, there are more women than men studying at the University. Also, in female dominated professions (kvinnodominerande yrken), salaries are generally lower.”

    Could this have something to do with the fact that more men than women negotiate or are willing to negotiate their salaries?



  2. Luke (Sydney):

    I think men get to be paid more is to compromise the fact that men can’t bear children…so in a way it’s equal.

  3. BM:


    I think men get to be paid more is to compromise the fact that men can’t bear children…so in a way it’s equal.

    What do you mean? “compromise” isn’t usually used this way.

  4. LC in Seattle:

    Just because more women choose to take maternity leave doesn’t mean Sweden is “far from perfect.” As long as employers aren’t pressuring women to take leave and pressuring men not to take leave, it should be entirely up to the mothers and fathers how they want to split the leave. If more women than men exercise their right to stay home with their children, how is that a black mark on Sweden?

    Further, I’d like to know whether the average salaries differ because men and women in the same careers are paid differently, or because some women choose to stay home during the time their children are growing (not just during maternity leave). Naturally someone who withdraws from the work force for e.g. 10 years will have a lower lifetime salary than someone who does not, and also has a much smaller chance of becoming the company director. You would have to compare men and women who make the same career choices.

    Money isn’t everything, and if people choose something other than money it shouldn’t diminish Sweden’s reputation.

  5. jennie:

    @BM: You are right, it is probably a reason why there is such a big gap in the salaries between men and woman. But I think your important point also comes down to the equality issue. Women are not as good as men at believing in themselves, standing up for themselves and claiming their rights just beacuse we are taught to hold back. Young girls are treated differently from young boys from the very beginning and I think that’s where the change has to happen. And is happening!

    @Luke: Giving birth is probaly a great thing but a bit more money on the way to maternity wouldn’t hurt….And men don’t have to sit down in public toilets… 🙂

    @JC: Absolutely, the maternity/paternity issue on its own does not make Sweden far from perfect, our system is great and yes, it should be between the mother and father. But… I think the problem is that many families can’t make the choice. They can’t afford to let the man stay at home – because he earns more money than the woman. And so many men still today think it is a women’s job to stay home with the kids. Men work – women stay home.

    Which brings us to the next issue, the salary gap.The 16% gap between women and men is over all and probably shows that women tend to work in sectors that are not well paid and looked upon as jobs with a lower staus – wierdly enough! Not many Swedish women stay at home with their kids after the maternity leave, it is a rare thing.
    And even if you look at women and men doing the same job working in the same company, the gap is still 7%! As I wrote to BM, this is in my opinoin an equality issue, since women from early age are taught to hold back and not think to highly of themselves, which in the long run might mean go for less paid jobs, not have the confidence you need to become director etc…. As soon as we get rid of that stupid mentality, the statistics will look much much better!

  6. LC in Seattle:

    Here’s an example that has nothing to do with women/men but illustrates the point I’m trying to make: I used to live in a rural area doing a creative job I loved with low wages, and now live in a large city doing a less-creative job (but not wholly non-creative) I like (but not love) with a high salary. I imagine Jennie might say I’m doing better now because I’m earning a lot more.

    On the other hand, I was happier in the rural area for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with my salary. I plan to return to that lifestyle in a few years (after I pay off debt). This is not to say that people who love urban life are wrong; it’s a personal choice (and I’m not totally immune to the charms of the city myself).

    Similarly, women whose ambition is to become the director of a company are not wrong, but neither are women (and men) wrong who choose to forgo a high salary, and instead either spend more time with their children, or pursue some “low status” vocation that brings them great satisfaction but little monetary reward.

    If it so be that more female than male Swedes choose a path that rewards them in ways other than money, that doesn’t mean there is something wrong with Sweden. The real question is not whether men earn more kronor than women, but whether more men or women are getting the type of reward they seek. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but the “16% gap” doesn’t answer that question.

  7. jennie:

    @LC: Absolutely, point taken and a very good point taken aswell! Money itself does not make one happier, believe me I would be the first one to agree to that one!! I quit my job as an editor for a magazine in Sweden to move to England and start my own freelance business. Today I probably earn half of what I did before, but I have never been happier. I couldn’t agree with you more there. It’s just awful that womens’ work are regarded less importat. I’m pretty sure we all can agree on that.

    And regarding women who choose to work less or in jobs with “less status”, I agree, they should be praised, not frown upon! It’s is just so bad that these jobs – or staying at home – is looked upon as a lower status job when it is actually extremely important.

    Btw, are you a writer possibly? You express yourself and your point so well, I’m struggeling to keep up! 🙂
    Thank you very much for sharing your story and opinions.

  8. LC in Seattle:

    Thanks for the compliment! Your own writing is quite clear as well, and I agree with much of your argument. Most of my adult life I’ve been a software developer, the field I studied for, but during the time I lived in the rural Southwest I was a newspaper reporter, one of the few jobs I could get there. (I also taught part-time at a 2-year college.)

    I plan to return to writing, albeit longer works than a 500- to 2,000-word newspaper article (or a 200-word blog comment). Yes, I know, lots of people “plan to” write one day, and most of them won’t. I hope not to fall into that group. Currently I snatch a little time here and there to develop outlines for and write bits and pieces of future writing projects.

  9. jennie:

    Well, please keep up the 200 word blog comments, they are very much appreciated! And I really hope you find the time to keep up the writing, it’s clearly your thing. Newspaper reporter in rural Southwest sounds great to me!

    Thank you too, but I do struggle quite a bit with making my point clear and being well-formulated at the same time. Even finding the right words can be a pain sometimes. But it’s all about practicing, isn’t it?

    Good luck with the writing and I’m looking forward to ‘hear’ more from you.

  10. BM:


    I don’t think the difference between asking for and not asking for a raise is an equality issue. Equality issues imo are ones where some outside and/or systematic discrimination is creating inequalities between men and women (or immigrants and natives or whichever two groups you want to compare). In this case, it’s an internal problem. I can’t make you ask for a raise any more than I can make you get a first class degree. It’s something you have to do yourself.

    Personally, I don’t think encouraging girls to act like boys is a good idea. For one thing, the proto-typical feminine behaviours are valuable. Co-operation and agreement-seeking is a valuable skill. It would be detrimental to loose that to the proto-typically masculine competition. A better solution would be to change the way we organise wage raises and contract negotiations.

    The 16% gap between women and men is over all and probably shows that women tend to work in sectors that are not well paid and looked upon as jobs with a lower status

    Typical female-dominated sectors are lower paid than male or mixed sectors with the same level of educational requirements, but I don’t think that’s because of low status. Teachers and nurses are pretty well respected, after all. I’m in agreement with Prof. Babcock on this one: female dominated sectors are worse paid because they’re female dominated. Women are keeping their own wages down by not negotiating higher salaries or wage rises.

  11. Luke (Sydney):

    @jennie, in the animals’ world—with a bit of generalisation—when the female got pregnant it is the time the male get a kick if not being eaten. I don’t know why our forefathers want to be in so muh control of their women, but I think if a woman get too much money during maternity the man will inevitably get a kick lol

  12. jennie:

    @BM: Are you a writer, too? I’m clearly need to work on my argumental skills in English, any advice?
    I agree with some of the things you say… but not everyting! Maybe we should leave it like that and avoid a fuming battle of the sexes 🙂
    Thank you for your thoughts and the intersting articles.

    @Luke: Ha, that’s one interesting way of looking at it!