Finland is the New Sweden

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30 Responses

  1. gregiank says:

    The connection between low birth rate and higher education, etc is found in many places and in middle/ upper income groups in many countries. This study while very interesting does not disprove that connection. It certainly suggests there is more to low birth rate decisions. But it also seems clear that families choosing to have more children in a prosperous country with a strong safety net and social support also benefit from policies that, you know, strongly support them. Is that really that big a discovery? Rich places that focus on supporting families are likely to create more options for families to do what they want.

    I would also wonder if there are generation effects. The fist generation of families that had the wealth/education/etc to have only one child may have made that choice. That generations children or grandchildren may now be deciding to make a different choice after deciding they like big families.Report

    • @gregiank,

      Finland’s experience will only be surprising to those who think that better policies and economic arrangements will always lead to declining birthrates and that low fertility is merely an expression of enhanced opportunity. Indeed, in many cases the opposite may be the case.Report

  2. Jason Kuznicki says:

    Wherever women are free to get an education, to delay childbirth, and to control the number of children they have, they tend very strongly to exercise those options.

    That is all that I meant. No more and no less. Finland does very little to disprove it, either, as Finland’s birth rate in 2008 isn’t substantially different from the rest of western Europe’s.

    In other words, if you really wanted to save the West from demographic decline, would you consider outlawing women’s education? I wouldn’t.Report

    • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      @Jason Kuznicki,

      Indeed, Finland’s current birthrate per 1,000 population is 11 — precisely the EU average. It’s also one less than Sweden’s. To say that Finland has solved the alleged demographic problem of its neighbor is to ignore the data entirely.Report

      • @Jason Kuznicki, thanks a really interesting graph, Jason. Thanks for sharing it.

        There aren’t many first-world countries ahead of the United States on that graph (and we’re assisted by our reproducing immigration population). One of them is, of all countries, Iceland. There’s only a point difference between us, but they’re 2-4 points behind the other nordic countries with whom they share a history. I wonder what makes them different than others? Ireland is also ahead (by a few points), which I would assume can be explained with its sincere Catholicism. Israel is much, much higher still (22). Could be because of the Arab population, could be because they feel the need to reproduce as a sort of defensive measure to preserve the state. I don’t know enough about the country to have any idea.Report

        • Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

          @Trumwill, from what I understand, Orthodox (and ultra-Orthodox) Judaism is exceptionally fecund.

          The tendency towards low birthrates and/or intermarriage with gentiles of Conservative/Reform Jews in the US is sometimes referred to as “the second holocaust”.

          From what I understand, anyway.Report

          • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:


            The tendency towards low birthrates and/or intermarriage with gentiles of Conservative/Reform Jews in the US is sometimes referred to as “the second holocaust”.

            By the same people who call those of us who question Israel’s policy towards Palestinians “self-hating Jews”. So take it for what it’s worth.Report

    • @Jason Kuznicki,

      Jason, thanks for the clarification. What I disagree with was the unsupported assertion that low birth rates are a good thing. Of course, there are obvious social downsides to birthrates below replacement level. What Finland’s experience shows us is that these low rates aren’t even necessarily indications of individual preferences.

      The fact that Finland’s birth rate is no higher than western Europe’s suggests that even very good policy may not be able to solve what is a very broad cultural and economic problem. But it doesn’t bear on the argument at hand, since it is hard to dispute that Finland’s fertility is higher than it otherwise would be.

      Finland hasn’t solved the problems faced by Sweden, but it does offer a superior alternative.Report

      • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

        @Matthew Schmitz,

        What Finland’s experience shows us is that these low rates aren’t even necessarily indications of individual preferences.

        On the margin, yes. Sweden and Finland are at 12 and 11 births per 1,000 total population per year. There’s some difference there, and definitely some space between them and Germany, at 8. But to get to Niger’s 52, you’re going to have to do some very seriously repressive things to women.

        My answer, of course, would not be to do these things at all, but rather just the reverse: Give autonomy, education, and birth control to women in the developing world. I know it’s not everything we need for economic growth — not by a long shot — but I certainly don’t see these things as bad.Report

      • Boegiboe in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

        @Matthew Schmitz, I found your post really interesting, and it fits well with my own parenting experience and that of several of my coworkers: If we didn’t have to work to advance our careers, we’d stay home with our young children. I just have a quibble with your comment here.

        For the record, none of the Nordic countries have birth rates below replacement level. Sweden and Finland both have 2 fewer deaths per 1000 per year than births. (I’m sorry, if I knew how to embed a link, I would. You can go to to find the data.)

        The social problems of excessive birth rates are much more obvious to me–starvation and attendant civil unrest or all-out war, for a start–than the problems of slightly-below-replacement birth rates. What are the problems you said were obvious, because I can’t think of any?Report

        • Katherine in reply to Boegiboe says:

          Given that most countries have problems with unemployment, a combination of low birth rates in the developed world and high immigration (as birth rates in developing nations aren’t going to change overnight even if we can facilitate the changes Jason suggests) seems like it would benefit everyone.Report

        • @Boegiboe,

          Boegiboe, thanks for the very helpful pointer. I didn’t say or suggest that Finland was below replacement level in my initial post ( in which I took special care to check all my claims), but I did suggest as much in one of the comments here. I’m glad to be corrected.

          One of the problems is supporting a graying population, especially in a state with large entitlements and pension obligations. One fix suggested by Katherine, widespread immigration, creates problems of its own. Populations are sometimes radicalized. The US, by the way, is lucky in this regard. We have relatively little trouble incorporating new immigrants.Report

  3. Trumwill says:

    It’s an interesting question as to how such a policy would work in the United States. I think that one of the reasons that women do not choose to stay at home, for instance, is that it creates long-term problem for their career. This is a bigger deal in the US where women are less likely to be relegated to less competitive government work.

    But it does seem more promising than the “people will have more kids if we just provided daycare” argument from yesteryear, which seems not to bear out where it’s been tried.

    The tricky part, politically, is single mothers. Allowing married mothers to stay at home (even with a stipend) is a much easier sell than single women whose only paycheck is by having more and more children. Particularly when the time spent away from the workforce harms her long-term ability to support the kids.Report

    • Imaginary Lawyer in reply to Trumwill says:

      @Trumwill, And the US has much less of a safety net for women whose marriages end. The idea that a man owes his former wife a comfortable living forever remains only among the very wealthy, but there is little other support structure to absorb the career hit staying home with children entails.Report

  4. Mike Schilling says:

    <i.We associate low fertility with high prosperity, more choices for women, and fewer obligations for men.

    Also lower infant mortality and less demand for child labor. Both good things.Report

  5. The praise for this type of policy arrangement is particularly maddening when you look at some of its other little-discussed effects. Few realize Swedish women are disproportionately employed by the public sector, while the vast majority of men work in the private sector.

    Please clarify how having one-year paid maternity leaves causes this, as opposed to having no maternity leave at all. In the latter case women would be expected to leave work at large numbers. Firms would be reluctant to invest human capital in young women and reluctant to promote them.

    In addition to being employed disproportionately by the public sector, Swedish women are further clustered in the areas of education and care-giving. They are caring for the children of others instead of their own.

    But women all over the world are clustered in the occupations of education and care-giving, the US included! You are simplifying things a lot here by assuming that women, all along their working careers, at all ages, would have the alternative of caring for small children at home and also by assuming that parents who work don’t do any care of their own children at all.Report

  6. What Finland’s experience suggests is that when given the option, few people prefer the autonomy touted by some followers of the liberal tradition and instead prefer the ties that bind — the sacrifices and rewards involved in child-care and family life.

    I spent some time on the net looking up Finnish-language studies on this. I will spend more time, but what I have found out so far is that the home care allowance is used more during times of unemployment than during times of good labor markets (which makes sense) and that the higher earners don’t use it much, what with it being much smaller than the income they forgo.

    That these changes exist suggests to me that it’s unlikely we are talking about some fundamental values of the type you infer here.Report

  7. Imaginary Lawyer says:

    Matthew, you appear to believe that men can be interested in “the sacrifices and rewards involved in child-care and family life” without taking a single day from work to care for their own children, but the same standard does not apply to women. Why?

    I also suspect a lot of people who are happy with one child would be deeply surprised to learn that they are not willing to make “the sacrifices and rewards involved in child-care and family life”, because apparently those don’t count unless you have two to four children.Report

    • @Imaginary Lawyer,

      Imaginary Lawyer —

      Calm down. Reread the post. I didn’t imply either of those things.Report

      • Imaginary Lawyer in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

        @Matthew Schmitz, I’m not sure why you read (nonexistent) anger into my posts; I’m assuming the ‘calm down’ was genuine, and not baiting.

        You did, actually, imply both of those things, though perhaps you didn’t mean to do so. Your post discussed Finnish women taking years of leave – not Finnish men doing likewise, so presumably their behavior is unchanged – yet you do not suggest that these fathers’ interest in caring for their own children or in the joys of family life is lessened. And when you praise women who choose to have more children as preferring “the sacrifices and rewards involved in child-care and family life” to that darn liberal autonomy, you are in fact saying that women who choose to have fewer children are not all that down with the family life thing. Because if they were, they’d have a couple more kids.Report

        • @Imaginary Lawyer,

          If you look back at the post, you’ll see that the options of Finnish women were only expanded and not in any way narrowed. The persistent insinuation that I am somehow anti-woman for noting choices made by women is too ludicrous to deserve a response.

          I would say exactly the same thing if all the people had been Swedish men. Nowhere did I suggest that it ought to be women who leave work. Indeed, I think that the burden should be shared in a logical and natural way, though people, especially the Finnish, are free to do what they wish.Report

          • Imaginary Lawyer in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

            @Matthew Schmitz, if you don’t care to discuss this, it would be nice if you would say so, instead of trying to shut down discussion by suggesting that I am overwrought, or by angrily repudiating an accusation I did not in fact make.

            Your post lauds Finnish women who take years off work, praises them for ‘caring for their own children’, and flat-out states that families with a stay-at-home parent (really, mother) and a larger number of children have rejected liberal autonomy for the joys of family life. Is this inaccurate?Report

            • @Imaginary Lawyer,

              Imaginary Lawyer —

              I am sorry if my post seemed angry. However, I am tired of commenters insinuating that I am concealing some variety of sexism. If it was not your intent to make such an insinuation, than I am sincerely sorry.

              But here’s the thing. Even after you say you were not interested in this issue, you continue to press the very line of questioning that I found to be so frivolous and unfounded. Nonetheless, I’ll answer your question. Yes, it is inaccurate to suggest that I single out Finnish women for praise. I praised families, nowhere do I single out women. I’m not sure how else I can help.

  8. Kaleberg says:

    Why is anyone surprised that women will take care of children if you pay them for it? That’s the entire theory behind day care, schools, summer camps and so on.Report