Sweden takes equality seriously

Sweden is riding high on a reputation for being a great place to live and a society of equality, based on the interesting idea of there being two sides to it. (New Swedish fathers get family leave too.)

The third leg of its international reputation, like the other Nordic countries, is high taxes. The Swedes themselves will admit that they are a way from where they want to be, but one thing that is really different about the Swedish approach is they have defined where they want to be.

An example of that definition in practice is the number of Swedish women the boards of private companies. Like everywhere else, at the moment, men dominate the board seats. What is different in Sweden is they measure it, they have found a development pattern and now estimate that they will reach equal representation by 2025. Between now and 2025 they will measure progress against this goal and will take action if needed.

Seventies throwback

Sweden had more than the eponymous rock group ABBA going on in the 1970s. It was in 1971 that all of Sweden’s taxpaying population commenced paying individual taxes. Married couples do not file a joint return as they do in so many counties.

It was a sea-change. By filing individually, Sweden was able to take the whole system and orientate it to the individual. Services are based on the needs of the person and not the needs of the family unit or the demographic group.

What is key, is that it was done so long ago. The idea is already 47 years old; there is a generation who has never paid tax in any other way, and the top end of the taxpaying population is now making its way out of the workforce.

It is hard to imagine tax-law reform in Sweden which could reverse the clock. This is how it is done in Sweden now.

The evidence is obvious

In public life, the work done over the past years is bearing fruit. 44% of Sweden’s members of Parliament are female. They acknowledge it is no 50% (yet) but can also accept that it is significantly better than the majority of western nations, (the US manages a mere 22%).

Since 2008 companies with over 25 employees must assess the pay gap between male and female and those who have not taken active steps to bridge it are fined.

For me, the most enlightened step is to look at the work types and re-educate. Women are traditionally in industries where ‘women’s work’ is undervalued relative to the work done by men. Health care is a prime example; women are the nurses, the doctors are men. Recognizing this is one thing, actively doing something about it is much more positive.


All of this effort is underscored by an educational process which engenders (pardon the pun) a Swedish view of what equality means. The whole country has no problem admitting that they are small f, feminist.