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Sweden performs very well in many measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index.
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Sweden, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 27 456 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 23 938 USD a year. But there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20% of the population earn more than four times as much as the bottom 20%.
In terms of employment, around 74% of people aged 15 to 64 in Sweden have a paid job, above the OECD employment average of 65%. Some 76% of men are in paid work, compared with 72% of women. People in Sweden work 1 621 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. Only 1% of employees work very long hours, much less than the OECD average of 9%. In Sweden 2% of men work very long hours, compared with 1% for women.
Having a good education is an important requisite for finding a job. In Sweden, 87% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 75%. This is truer of women than men, as 86% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 89% of women. In terms of the quality of the educational system, the average student scored 482 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), less than the OECD average of 497. On average in Sweden, girls outperformed boys by 20 points, more than the average OECD gap of 8 points.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Sweden is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 80 for men. The level of atmospheric PM10 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 10.2 micrograms per cubic meter, considerably lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter. Sweden also does well in terms of water quality, as 97% of people say they are satisfied with the quality of their water, compared with an OECD average of 84%.
Concerning the public sphere, there is a strong sense of community and high levels of civic participation in Sweden, where 91% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, slightly higher than the OECD average of 89%. Voter turnout, a measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process, was 85% during recent elections. This figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%. There is little difference in voting levels across society; voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 89% and for the bottom 20% it is an estimated 83%, narrower than the OECD average gap of 11 percentage points and suggesting there is broad social inclusion in Sweden’s democratic institutions.
In general, Swedes are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 83% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 76%.
OECD in Action
OECD Reviews of Health Care Quality: Sweden 2013
This report reviews the quality of health care in Sweden. It highlights best practices and provides recommendations for improvements.Read this report
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Sweden in Detail
Housing – Sweden expand
Living in satisfactory housing conditions is one of the most important aspects of people’s lives. Housing is essential to meet basic needs, such as shelter, but it is not just a question of four walls and a roof. Housing should offer a place to sleep and rest where people feel safe and have privacy and personal space; somewhere they can raise a family. All of these elements help make a house a home. And of course there is the question whether people can afford adequate housing.
Housing costs take up a large share of the household budget and represent the largest single expenditure for many individuals and families, by the time you add up elements such as rent, gas, electricity, water, furniture or repairs. In Sweden, households on average spend 21% of their gross adjusted disposable income on keeping a roof over their heads, in line with the OECD average.
In addition to housing costs it is also important to examine living conditions, such as the average number of rooms shared per person and whether households have access to basic facilities. In Sweden, 92% of people say they are satisfied with their current housing situation, more than the OECD average of 87%. This high level of subjective satisfaction reflects Sweden’s good performance in objective housing indicators.
The number of rooms in a dwelling, divided by the number of persons living there, indicates whether residents are living in crowded conditions. Overcrowded housing may have a negative impact on physical and mental health, relations with others and children’s development. In addition, dense living conditions are often a sign of inadequate water and sewage supply. In Sweden, the average home contains 1.7 rooms per person, slightly more than the OECD average of 1.6 rooms per person. In terms of basic facilities, nearly every dwelling in Sweden contains private access to an indoor flushing toilet, more than the OECD average of 97.9%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Income – Sweden expand
While money may not buy happiness, it is an important means to achieving higher living standards and thus greater well-being. Higher economic wealth may also improve access to quality education, health care and housing.
Household net-adjusted disposable income is the amount of money that a household earns each year after taxes and transfers. It represents the money available to a household for spending on goods or services. In Sweden, the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is 27 546 USD a year, higher than the OECD average of 23 938 USD.
Household financial wealth is the total value of a household’s financial worth. In Sweden, the average household net financial wealth per capita is estimated at 55 301 USD, higher than the OECD average of 42 903 USD. While the ideal measure of household wealth should include non-financial assets (e.g. land and dwellings), such information is currently available for only a small number of OECD countries.
Despite a general increase in living standards across OECD countries over the past fifteen years, not all people have benefited from this to the same extent. In Sweden, the average net adjusted disposable income of the top 20% of the population is an estimated 49 009 USD a year, whereas the bottom 20% live on an estimated 12 101 USD a year
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Jobs – Sweden expand
Having a job brings many important benefits, including: providing a source of income, improving social inclusion, fulfilling one’s own aspirations, building self-esteem and developing skills and competencies. In Sweden, 74% of the working-age population aged 15 to 64 has a paid job. This figure is much higher than the OECD employment average of 65%. Employment rates are generally higher for individuals with a higher level of education; in Sweden an estimated 88% of individuals with at least a tertiary education have a paid job, compared with an estimated 49% for those without an upper secondary education. This 39 percentage point difference is higher than the OECD average of 33 percentage points and suggests the job market in Sweden is relatively restrictive.
Women are still less likely than men to participate in the labour market. In Sweden, 72% of women have jobs. This is more than the OECD average of 57% and relatively close to the 76% employment rate of men in Sweden. This 4 percentage point gender difference is much lower than the OECD average of 16 percentage points and suggests Sweden has generally been successful in addressing the constraints and barriers women face accessing work.
Young Swedish people, aged 15-24, however, are facing difficulties with an unemployment rate of 23.7%, higher than the OECD average of 16.3%.
Unemployed persons are defined as those who are not currently working but are willing to do so and actively searching for work. Long-term unemployment can have a large negative effect on feelings of well-being and self-worth and result in a loss of skills, further reducing employability. In Sweden, the percentage of the labour force that has been unemployed for a year or longer is currently 1.4%, lower than the OECD average of 2.7%. There is little difference on average between men and women in the OECD area when it comes to long-term unemployment. In Sweden, the long-term unemployment rate for men is slightly higher than for women, at respectively 1.6% and 1.2%.
The wages and other monetary benefits that come with employment are an important aspect of job quality. In Sweden, people earn 38 789 US dollars per year on average, less than the OECD average 41 010 USD.
Another essential factor of employment quality is job security. Workers facing a high risk of job loss are more vulnerable, especially in countries with smaller social safety nets. In Sweden, workers face a 6.5% chance of losing their job, higher than the OECD average of 5.3%.
More ResourcesWell‑being in the workplace: Measuring job quality
Community – Sweden expand
Humans are social creatures. The frequency of our contact with others and the quality of our personal relationships are thus crucial determinants of our well-being. Helping others can also make you happier. People who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not. Time spent volunteering also contributes to a healthy civil society. On average, people in Sweden spend 4 minutes per day in volunteering activities, in line with the OECD average. Around 51% reported having helped a stranger in the last month, slightly more than the OECD average of 49%.
A strong social network, or community, can provide emotional support during both good and bad times as well as provide access to jobs, services and other material opportunities. In Sweden, 91% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, slightly more than the OECD average of 89%. There is a 3 percentage point difference between men and women, as 89% of men believe they have this kind of social support, compared with 92% of women. There is also a clear relationship between the availability of social support on the one hand, and people’s education level on the other. In Sweden, only 82% of people who have completed primary education report having someone to count on for help in times of need, compared to 91% for people who attained tertiary education.
A weak social network can result in limited economic opportunities, a lack of contact with others, and eventually, feelings of isolation. Socially isolated individuals face difficulties integrating into society as a contributing member and fulfilling personal aspirations.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Insights: Human Capital
Education – Sweden expand
A well-educated and well-trained population is essential for a country’s social and economic well-being. Education plays a key role in providing individuals with the knowledge, skills and competences needed to participate effectively in society and in the economy. Having a good education greatly improves the likelihood of finding a job and earning enough money. Across OECD countries, 83% of people with university-level degrees have a job, compared with 55% for those with only a secondary school diploma. Lifetime earnings also increase with each level of education.
Following a decline in manual labour over previous decades, employers now favour a more educated labour force. High-school graduation rates therefore provide a good indication of whether a country is preparing its students to meet the minimum requirements of the job market. In Sweden, 87% of adults aged 25-64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, higher than the OECD average of 75%. Across the OECD, slightly more men aged 25-64 have the equivalent of a high-school degree compared with women from that same age group. In Sweden however, 86% of men have successfully completed high-school compared with 89% of women. Among younger people – a better indicator of Sweden’s future – 91% of 25-34 year-olds have earned the equivalent of a high-school degree, also higher than the OECD average of 82%.
Swedes can expect to go through 19.2 years of education between the ages of 5 and 39, more than the OECD average of 17.7 years. This high level of education expectancy echoes Sweden’s good performance in the educational attainment of its 25-34 year-old population.
But graduation rates, while important, speak little to the quality of education received. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) reviews the extent to which students have acquired some of the knowledge and skills that are essential for full participation in modern societies. In 2012, PISA focused on examining students’ reading ability, skills in maths and level in sciences, as research shows that these skills are more reliable predictors of economic and social well-being than the number of years spent in school.
The average student in Sweden scored 482 in reading literacy, maths and sciences, below the OECD average of 497. On average, girls outperformed boys by 20 points, much more than the average OECD gap of 8 points.
The best-performing school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students. In Sweden, the average difference in results, between the students with the highest socio-economic background and the students with the lowest socio-economic is 84 points, lower than the OECD average of 96 points. This suggests the school system in Sweden provides relatively equal access to high-quality education.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Improving academic performances of immigrants
Sweden is far from homogeneous, with nearly 20% of elementary secondary school students speaking a language other than Swedish, and over 100 languages spoken nationwide. More than 13% of all residents were born abroad.
To address this diversity, Sweden has made a strong national commitment to Swedish language education for both immigrant adults and school children. As a consequence, the academic performance of Sweden’s immigrant children is impressive.
For immigrant children, Sweden has implemented an intensive immersion programme similar to that in other countries that have successfully narrowed the achievement gap between immigrant and non-immigrant children, such as Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Switzerland.
It is compulsory for newly-arrived school-age children to study Swedish at school as a second language (SSL) as part of a core programme of study. The goal is to provide students with the language skills necessary to understand and express complex ideas through speech and writing. Recent student immigrants remain in the SSL programmes on average between 6 and 12 months. They then transfer into the mainstream school programme, but through the “Study Guidance in Mother Tongue” programme they are provided with support teachers to help in the transition. These teachers often work with small groups of immigrant students within the mainstream classroom.
Sweden does not just prioritise language education for immigrant school children, it is also important for their parents and other adults. As mentioned above, Sweden guarantees adults 240 hours of free language instruction through its Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) programme. This is focused on preparing immigrants for the workplace.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Environment – Sweden expand
The quality of our local living environment has a direct impact on our health. Having access to green spaces for example, is essential for quality of life. An unspoiled environment is a source of satisfaction, improves mental well-being, allows people to recover from the stress of everyday life and to perform physical activity. In Sweden, 4% of people feel they lack access to green spaces or recreational areas, much less than the 12 % average of OECD European countries.
Outdoor air pollution is one important environmental issue that directly affects the quality of peoples’ lives. Despite national and international interventions and decreases in major pollutant emissions, the health impacts of urban air pollution continue to worsen, with air pollution set to become the top environmental cause of premature mortality globally by 2050. Air pollution in urban centres, often caused by transport and the use of small-scale burning of wood or coal, is linked to a range of health problems, from minor eye irritation to upper respiratory symptoms in the short-term and chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer in the long-term. Children and the elderly may be particularly vulnerable.
PM10 – tiny particulate matter small enough to be inhaled into the deepest part of the lung – is monitored in OECD countries because it can harm human health and reduce life expectancy. In Sweden, PM10 levels are 10.2 micrograms per cubic meter, much lower than the OECD average of 20.1 micrograms per cubic meter as well as the annual guideline limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter set by the World Health Organization and one of the lowest levels in the OECD.
Access to clean water is fundamental to human well-being. Despite significant progress in OECD countries in reducing water pollution, improvements in freshwater quality are not always easy to discern. In Sweden, 97% of people say they are satisfied with water quality. This figure is the highest in the OECD where the average satisfaction level is84%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance OECD Environmental Outlook to 2030
Governance – Sweden expand
Trust in government is essential for social cohesion and well-being. In Sweden, 58% of people say they trust their national government, more than the OECD average of 39% and one of the highest rates in the OECD. High voter turnout is another measure of public trust in government and of citizens’ participation in the political process. In the most recent elections for which data is available, voter turnout in Sweden was 85% of those registered. This figure is much higher than the OECD average of 72%.
Even if the right to vote is universal in all OECD countries, not everyone exercises this right. There is little difference in the voting rates of men and women in most OECD countries. This is the case in Sweden, where the voter turnout of men and women is similar at an estimated 83% and 87%. While on average there are few differences between men and women concerning participation in elections, income can have a strong influence on voter turnout. In Sweden, voter turnout for the top 20% of the population is an estimated 89%, whereas the participation rate of the bottom 20% is an estimated 83%. This 6 percentage point difference is lower than the OECD average difference of 11 percentage points and suggests there is broad social inclusion in Sweden’s democratic institutions.
Ensuring that government decision making is not compromised by conflicts of interest is key to maintaining trust in government. Transparency is therefore essential to hold government to account and to maintain confidence in public institutions.
Freedom of information laws (FOI) allow the possibility for individuals to access undisclosed information. For such policies to be successful, the public should have a clear understanding of their rights under the law, should be able to file requests with ease and should be protected against any possible retaliation. People in Sweden can file a request for information either in writing, online, by telephone or in person – thus greatly facilitating the FOI process. There are also provisions for anonymity and built-in protection from retaliation –important protections that few OECD countries have adopted. As a result, Sweden has one of the most accessible freedom of information policies in the OECD.
Better Policies for Better Lives
Strengthening consultation with the business community
Sweden attaches considerable importance to the principle of transparency, with roots going back to the eighteenth century. Transparency is enshrined at the highest level, in two of the four fundamental laws making up the constitution.
Public consultation is a routine part of developing draft laws. Committees of Inquiry for example are set up for the development of major policies and legislation. These committees are required to consult widely and considerable information about their work is made public. The Swedish government has also strengthened consultation with the business community since a 2007 OECD recommendation on this topic. For example, several ministries have established working groups with business representatives to identify areas of particular concern.
The consultation system often involves formal groups, and it has been suggested that ordinary citizens can be left out of the loop. The OECD thus encourages the use of new approaches, such as Internet consultations, to reach out to a broad audience.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Health – Sweden expand
Most OECD countries have enjoyed large gains in life expectancy over the past decades, thanks to improvements in living conditions, public health interventions and progress in medical care. Life expectancy at birth for the whole population in Sweden stands at almost 82 years, two years above the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 80 for men, a smaller gender difference than the average OECD gender gap of six years, with a life expectancy of 83 years for women and 77 for men.
Higher life expectancy is generally associated with higher healthcare spending per person, although many other factors have an impact on life expectancy (such as living standards, lifestyles, education and environmental factors). Total health spending accounts for 9.5% of GDP in Sweden, slightly more than the OECD average of 9.4%. Sweden also ranks above the OECD average in terms of health spending per person, at 3 925 USD in 2011, compared with an OECD average of 3 322 USD. Between 2000 and 2011, total health spending in Sweden increased in real terms by 3.7% per year on average, a slightly slower rate than the OECD average of 4.0%. This growth rate slowed down to 2.0% in 2010, before going up again by 3.7% in 2011.
Throughout the OECD, tobacco consumption and excessive weight gain remain two important risk factors for many chronic diseases. The proportion of daily smokers in Sweden has been reduced from 32.4% in 1980 to 13.1%, the lowest rate among OECD countries, and well below the OECD average of 20.9%. Much of this decline can be attributed to policies aimed at reducing tobacco consumption through public awareness campaigns, advertising bans and increased taxation. In many OECD countries, large proportions of the population are overweight or obese. In Sweden, the obesity rate among adults – based on self-reported height and weight – is 11.0%, much lower than the OECD average of 17.2%, Obesity’s growing prevalence foreshadows increases in the occurrence of health problems (such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and asthma), and higher health care costs in the future.
When asked, “How is your health in general?”80% of people in Sweden reported to be in good health, much more than the OECD average of 69%. Despite the subjective nature of this question, answers have been found to be a good predictor of people’s future health care use. Gender, age and social status may affect answers to this question. On average in OECD countries, men are more likely to report good health than women, with an average of 72% for men and 67% for women. In Sweden, the average is 82% for men and 78% for women. Not surprisingly, older people report poorer health, as do those who are unemployed, or who have less education or income. About 89% of adults with a disposable income in the top 20% in Sweden rated their health as ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to about 68% for those with a disposable income in the bottom 20%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Life Satisfaction – Sweden expand
Happiness or subjective well-being can be measured in terms of life satisfaction, the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and the absence of negative experiences and feelings. Such measures, while subjective, are a useful complement to objective data to compare the quality of life across countries.
Life satisfaction measures how people evaluate their life as a whole rather than their current feelings. It captures a reflective assessment of which life circumstances and conditions are important for subjective well-being. When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale from 0 to 10, Swedes gave it a 7.4 grade higher than the OECD average of 6.6.
There is little difference in life satisfaction levels between men and women across OECD countries. In Sweden, however, women reported being somewhat happier than men, rating their lives at 7.7, compared with 7.1 for men. Education levels also influence subjective well-being. Whereas people who have only completed primary education in Sweden have a life satisfaction level of 7.2, and this score reaches 7.7 for people with tertiary education.
Happiness, or subjective well-being, is also measured by the presence of positive experiences and feelings, and/or the absence of negative experiences and feelings. In Sweden, 83% of people reported having more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc.) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc.). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 76%.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Safety – Sweden expand
Personal security is a core element for the well-being of individuals, and largely reflects the risks of people being physically assaulted or falling victim to other types of crime. Across the OECD, assault rates have generally declined in the past five years. In Sweden, 5.1% of people reported falling victim to assault over the previous 12 months, more than the OECD average of 3.9%. There is little difference between men and women in assault rates, at respectively 4.7% and 5.5%.
The homicide rate (the number of murders per 100,000 inhabitants) is a more reliable measure of a country’s safety level because, unlike other crimes, murders are usually always reported to the police. According to the latest OECD data, Sweden’s homicide rate is 1.0, much lower than the OECD average of 4.1. In Sweden, the homicide rate for men is 1.4 compared with 0.6 for women.
Fear of crime is another important indicator as it can constrain behaviour, restrict freedom and threaten the foundation of communities. Despite a general reduction in assault rates in the past five years, in many OECD countries feelings of security have declined. In Sweden, 78% of people feel safe walking alone at night, higher than the OECD average of 69%. While men are at a greater risk of being victims of assaults and violent crimes, women report lower feelings of security than men. This has been explained by a greater fear of sexual attacks, the feeling they must also protect their children and their concern that they may be seen as partially responsible.
More ResourcesHow's Life? at a Glance
Work-Life Balance – Sweden expand
Finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. Some couples would like to have (more) children, but do not see how they could afford to stop working. Other parents are happy with the number of children in their family, but would like to work more. This is a challenge to governments because if parents cannot achieve their desired work/life balance, not only is their welfare lowered but so is development in the country.
People spend one-tenth to one-fifth of their time on unpaid work. The distribution of tasks within the family is still influenced by gender roles: men are more likely to spend more hours in paid work, while women spend longer on unpaid domestic work. Men in Sweden, spend 154 minutes per day cooking, cleaning or caring, more than the OECD average of 141 minutes but still less than Swedish women who spend 207 minutes per day on average on domestic work.
Another important aspect of work-life balance is the amount of time a person spends at work. Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. People in Sweden work 1 621 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1 765 hours. The share of employees working more than 50 hours per week is not very large across OECD countries. In Sweden, about 1% of employees work very long hours, much less than the OECD average of 9%. Overall, men spend more hours in paid work: in Sweden 2% of men work very long hours, compared with 1% for women.
The more people work, the less time they have to spend on other activities, such as time with others or leisure. The amount and quality of leisure time is important for people’s overall well-being, and can bring additional physical and mental health benefits. In Sweden,full-time workers devote 63% of their day on average, or 15.1 hours, to personal care (eating, sleeping, etc.) and leisure (socialising with friends and family, hobbies, games, computer and television use, etc.) – slightly more than the OECD average of 15 hours. Fewer hours in paid work for women do not necessarily result in greater leisure time. In Sweden, both men and women devote approximately 15 hours per day to personal care and leisure.