Sweden is regularly named as one of the best countries for parents and their kids, and there are a lot of reasons why, not least of which the desire for everyone to have a good work–life balance. And just last year, Sweden was voted the best in the world for childcare, coming second only to the Netherlands when it came to overall family living. So why is this? Let’s find out.
As soon as you get pregnant in Sweden you are enrolled in a local barnavårdcental, which is a prenatal centre that monitors you throughout your pregnancy through regular visits. If the centre detects something wrong or something to be concerned about you, are assigned to a specialbarnavårdcentral, a special prenatal centre, where you will be more closely monitored. All of this is completely free.
If your job is tenuous, such as one that requires heavy lifting or a risky work environment, you are entitled to additional pregnancy benefits that allow you to take parental leave earlier in your pregnancy, sometimes as early as 60 days pregnant. You receive 80% of your salary, paid by Sweden’s Social Insurance Agency, Försäkringskassan.
Before you go into labour, you’ve hopefully already chosen the hospital where you want to give birth. More and more Swedish hospitals providing maternity care have adjoining ‘hotels’, where you and your partner can stay for free, with meals included, for a few days after the birth of your child. This allows both of you to bond with the new baby and get help with breastfeeding or any other difficulties you might face, and also allows care providers to monitor any problems. You will not be discharged until the nurses and doctors are satisfied everyone is OK. You’ll also be sent home with a starter kit of sorts, which will include diapers and other things you’re going to need as you adjust to being a parent.
Once you get home you will be assigned to a mödravårdcentral, a paediatric care centre, and the first time you will meet your care provider is when he or she visits your home, usually within a week of you arriving home with your bundle of joy. They do this both to make a personal connection, and to make sure the home is a safe place for the baby.
All healthcare is free for children, no matter what, until they are 20 years old, while dental care is free until a child is 21 years old. When you turn 20, a visit to the doctor will cost you between 100 and 300 kronor, while a specialist cannot charge more than 400 kronor. Yearly health care costs are capped, meaning if you incur 1,100 kronor in fees during a 12-month period, anything above that is free. 1,100 kronor, by the way, is less than 100 dollars.
Now that you’ve given birth and you’re home, you’ll be given 480 days of paid parental leave. For 390 of those days, you will be paid 80% of your salary, while the remaining days are paid at a flat rate set by the government. Additionally, you can take those days and spread them out over a longer period of time, so if you want to go back to work part time, you can take the days left and use them up until your child is eight years old. You can reduce your working hours by up to 25% until the child is eight – and nope, you cannot be penalised by your employer for doing this.
Even more importantly, 90 of those days have to be taken by each parent, or else you lose them. This has significantly cut down on women being the ones to take nearly all the parental leave (it used to be that 10 days had to be taken by both parents), thus taking them out of the workforce for longer periods of time and possibly damaging their careers. Even better? Parental leave also applies to unemployed people.
If you get bored with changing diapers and want to meet other parents, there are fully staffed government-funded open play centres, called öppna förskola, where you can drop in at any time and let your child play and meet other kids while you have a fika with other parents. There are all kinds of activities, such as singalongs, arts and crafts, gym time and plenty of visits to one of the many nearby playgrounds. And if you don’t have a car or any other way to get to the open play centre? Not to worry – all parents with a pram are allowed to take the bus for free.
Once you do go back to work, there is government-funded day care – called dagis – and you have a legal right to place your child in one within a reasonable amount of time, although in Stockholm places are at a premium, so most people put in an application the second they give birth, so that they can put their child in to a day care close that they choose, as well as one that is close to work or home. This is because there are an increasing number of parent cooperatives that are technically private, often with an international slant, and they are very popular. Even if you do go into a parent cooperative, there are caps on how much the day care can charge parents – and you can use the government money that would go to a state-run daycare to pay for your child’s place at the cooperative.
Once your kid is in day care or school, you’re going to have to deal with them getting sick. This of course means time off work, but the good news is that if you need to take time off work for a sick child, the government will pay you your salary. It’s called vård av barn – ‘caring for a sick child’ – and you get this special pay when your child is sick until they are 12 years old – and the money is simply deposited directly into your account.
There is a monthly child allowance that you get every month until the child turns 16. It’s just over 1,000 Swedish kronor (about US$100) and when your child turns 16 they will then get the money directly until they are out of school, which saves you a bit on pocket money for them, and also helps them transition into being economically independent.
While knowing that you’re economically secure is a big, big thing when you’ve had a baby, it’s also nice to know that, as your children get older, they will have free schooling and free lunches, along with subsidised housing and studentbidrag, the monthly government stipend that helps defray costs. It’s rare indeed to see a Swedish kid working their way through school, and if you want to attend a specialised high school in another part of the country, you will get assistance in finding a place to live so that you can pursue your dreams. Additionally, university education is free in Sweden, and public transport is subsidised for all students.
Sweden is a pretty great place to have kids and raise kids, and if we’re honest, all these reasons only scratch the surface, because it goes deeper, with advertising targeting kids under 12 banned, museums free and even special school holidays designed to ensure that families get to spend time together. The everyday life of a parent is made as easy as possible, because in Sweden, it’s believed that happy parents who aren’t stressed all the time about money or the care of their child are better members of society, with more to contribute. And the kids are the ones who benefit most.