MPIDR Working Paper

Why does Sweden have such high fertility?

Hoem, J. M.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2005-009, 13 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (April 2005)
Also published in: Demographic Research 13:22, 559-572 (2005). Internet:
Open Access


By current European standards, Sweden has had a relatively high fertility in recent decades. During the 1980s and 1990s, the annual Total Fertility Rate (TFR) for Sweden undulated considerably around a level just under 1.8, which is a bit lower than the corresponding level in France and well above the level in West Germany. (In 2004 the Swedish TFR reached 1.76 on an upward trend.) The Swedish completed Cohort Fertility Rate (CFR) was rather constant at 2 for the cohorts that produced children in the same period; for France it stayed around 2.1 while the West-German CFR was lower and declined regularly to around 1.6. In this presentation, I describe the background for these developments and explain the unique Swedish undulations. Part of the explanation of the trend and level in Swedish fertility is the extensive battery of public family policies in the country. They reflect the great generosity, high flexibility, and universalistic approach of the whole system, where family policies are coordinated with educational policies and labor-market policies in an effort to promote the status of women and achieve equity for all residents. The state has been engaged in the development of high-quality all-day childcare arrangements available to all children, and has conducted campaigns to influence public attitudes toward a woman-friendly political culture. Reforms have been motivated by gender-equality considerations and by a drive to induce women to participate in the labor force and to induce men into parenting and childrearing. Legal rules are individualistic, as highlighted by the abolishment of the public widow’s pension and by a tax system where income tax is levied from the individual and not from the married couple or the household, as in Germany. Welfare-state benefits are directed similarly to the individual, not to the family. Policies can be said to focus on the equal right of working women to have children rather than of the right of mothers to have a job. There is no inclination in the Swedish system to encourage a mother to stay home and take care of her children; if anything there has been a move toward securing both-parent participation in childrearing.
Keywords: Sweden, fertility
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