Sweden - Introduction
Sweden has one of the world's longest life expectancies and lowest birth rates. The country counts at least 20,000 indigenous Sami among its population. About one in every five Swedes is an immigrant or has at least one foreign-born parent. The largest immigrant groups are from Finland, Iraq, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia, Iran, Norway, Denmark, and Poland. This reflects Nordic immigration, earlier periods of labor immigration, and more recent refugee and family immigration.
Swedish is a Germanic language related to Danish and Norwegian but different in pronunciation and orthography. English is widely spoken, particularly by Swedes under the age of 50.
Sweden has an extensive child-care system that guarantees a place for all young children ages two through six in a public day-care facility. From ages seven to 16, children participate in compulsory education. After completing the ninth grade, 90% attend upper secondary school for either academic or technical education.
One of the overarching Swedish principles for gender equality is that everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to work and support themselves, and to balance career and family life. On a national level, this principle is also about laying ground for the economy. Sweden has a long history of policies with the goal of getting equal numbers of men and women – in other words, as many people as possible – into the workforce in order to increase the country’s growth.
In 1974, Sweden was the first country in the world to replace gender-specific maternity leave with parental leave. Swedes benefit from an extensive social welfare system, which provides childcare and maternity and paternity leave, a ceiling on health care costs, old-age pensions, and sick leave, among other benefits. Parents are entitled to a total of 480 days' paid leave at 80% of a government-determined salary cap between birth and the child's eighth birthday. The parents may split those days however they wish, but 60 of the days are reserved specifically for the father. The parents may also take an additional five months of unpaid leave.
In Sweden, human rights are protected primarily through the Instrument of Government, the Freedom of the Press Act and the Fundamental Law on Freedom of Expression. Public power should be exercised with respect for the equality of everyone and the freedom and dignity of the individual. Laws and other regulations may not lead to any citizen being disadvantaged because they belong to a minority, in terms of gender, transgender identity or expression, ethnic origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation or age.
Freedom of the press is based on freedom of expression and speech – a cornerstone of most democracies. In 1766, Sweden became the first country in the world to write freedom of the press into its constitution. The Freedom of the Press Act states that those in authority must be held accountable and all information must be freely available. The law protects the identities of sources who provide publishers, editors or news agencies with information, and journalists can never be forced to reveal their sources.
Sweden’s economy has been relatively stable over the last few decades and has, on the whole, grown steadily since 1970. Today inflation is low and the banking system relatively healthy. But this has not always been the case. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Swedish economy suffered from low growth and high inflation, and the Swedish krona was repeatedly devalued. During the severe financial crisis in the early 1990s, Swedish banks became unstable and two were nationalised, unemployment rose sharply and government spending soared, as did national debt. The path back to stability was not easy. But by pursuing reforms – and sticking to them – Sweden transformed its economy, paving the way for robust growth in the face of global economic uncertainty.
Both Sweden and the world face major future challenges in a range of areas; they are constantly changing through dynamic and complex processes against a background of intense global competition. If Sweden is to remain successful in the future and become an even better country to live and work in, it must be able to meet a number of major requirements.
The fact that Sweden despite it prosperity has deficits in terms of socioeconomic integration, and that many people live in straitened circumstances and experience social exclusion, indicates that issues relating to social justice and cohesion are also among the key challenges lying ahead. One such challenge relates to the fact that employment levels remain significantly lower among people of foreign origin than among those with Swedish backgrounds. This effectively limits their chances in life, which in turn means that skills and competencies go unused, with the attendant risk of social friction. The fact that those born in households with narrow economic margins and a weak footing in the community at large are often more likely to have children who will experience the same conditions also shows that negative social inheritance often limits a person’s prospects.
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