Sweden has developed a modern industrial culture based on natural resources, technical skills, and a sense of quality. Simplicity and even severity resulting from geographic and economic conditions characterize Swedish society and life. The title suggests that there have been changes in the roles of the Swedish woman. There is no doubt that this is the case. The degree to which and the speed with which changes have occurred, however, are somewhat more difficult to evaluate. At the same time, if women’s roles change, men’s roles should change too, especially if women’s new roles begin to invade areas previously held by the men.
We can, therefore conclude that changes in one role bring about changes in other roles. Not only are changes in women and men’s roles of importance but also changes in girls’ and boys’ roles. Through observation and experience, attempts to change adult roles have often been premised on changes in the roles of children and adolescents.
In this paper, some data related to gender roles in the family, both children’s gender roles and the gender roles of the adult members of a family will be presented. Some examples of child rearing, division of labor between the spouses, and of gender roles in relation to cohabitation and marriage will also be included. This data will allude to evidence of changes in female employment rates, fertility rates as well as some important information on governmental policies in Sweden.
Sweden is a worldly society with open-minded norms concerning the way men and women choose to live together. The choice between a formal marriage and informal cohabitation has long since been an essentially private matter. There is no set way to any particular family form, and not even Swedish family law (last revised in 1987) is confined to married couples. The law treats unmarried and married couples equally in most aspects. For instance, no distinction is made between married and unmarried couples with respect to tax assessment or when housing allowances or child benefits are granted (Hoem, 39). This liberal view may help explain why non-marital cohabitation was so rapidly accepted in Sweden compared to many other countries, being soon regarded as a social institution rather than as deviant behavior.
Non-marital cohabitation is not a new practice in Sweden, in particular in the capital and in the northern parts of the country. According to Swedish history, there were two different types of cohabitation at the beginning of the century. One very visible type was called samvets- ktenskap (marriage of conscience) and was practiced by a group of intellectuals as a protest agains the fact that only religious marriage existed in Sweden at the time. Their protest was successful in that civil marriage was introduced in 1909. The other form of consensual union was called Stockholms- ktenskap (Stockholm marriage) and was endemic among poor people who could not afford to marry (Hoem 41). As time went on, this practice of cohabitation appears to have almost disappeared, however. Cohabitation was not very common during the decades before 1960. When informal cohabitation then suddenly started to grow in popularity, it received almost no public attention initially. When marriage rates fell dramatically, it became clear that the number of marriages was no longer a reliable measure of family formation, and consensual unions were recognized as a recordable living arrangement in the 1975 census. Nevertheless, it came as a real surprise when the 1981 Swedish Fertility Survey revealed that as many as every third woman born in the period 1936-1940 had started her first union without marriage (Hoem 44). The survey also showed that these cohabitants, which most often came from the working class, married soon afterwards, and that durable consensual unions were relatively rare. In subsequent groups, non-marital unions progressively became even more common and such unions stayed consensual for increasingly longer periods of time.
A modern consensual union does not have all the characteristics of a formally approved marriage. The behavior of cohabitants is sufficiently different from that of married people to merit regarding consensual union as a separate civil status, in particular because people live in such unions for relatively long periods of their lives. Childbearing behavior in consensual unions most resembles that in marital unions in the working class, while young women from the upper class (bourgeoisie) rapidly adopted cohabitation as a practical living arrangement but were much less willing to have children before converting the union into a marriage. According to Hoem (1994), students adopted this new behavior more quickly than most other groups, but it would be wrong to say that students initiated modern cohabitation in Swedent. This group simply adopted this practice with enthusiasm because it gave them a type of union that suited their needs. Rates of consensual union formation among femal students more than doubled between the groups born between 1936-1940 and 1946-1950. Like other groups for whom marriage was not a realistic option, students were quick to take the opportunity to live together, possibly as an alternative to ‘going steady,’ and many young people took this step after having known each other for quite a short while. Undoubtedly, starting a consensual union is not seen as much of a definitive move, while marrying is.
Factors Influencing the Disposition to Marry Among Cohabiting WomenModern cohabitation is one of the more important social innovations of recent decades. It has changed the pattern of family formation radically. Since the mid-1970’s, almost all Swedish women who have married had been cohabitants first, nevertheless, little is known about why some people subsequently marry and others do not. One factor that might contribute to marriage is pregnancy. A pregnancy clearly increases the marriage rate among childless women who cohabit in their first union. For both pregnant and non-pregnant cohabiting women alike, however, the incidence of marriage has diminished strongly. Even though a declining fraction married during the first few years of cohabitation, they remained highly influenced by the imminent arrival of a child. This in turn implies that marital fertility has remained relatively constant. It has also remained relatively independent of cohabitational duration before marriage (Hoem 49). The interaction between the pregnancy factor and the woman’s current employment status is significant at the one- percent level. A possible pregnancy influenced the tendency to marry most strongly among students. According to Hoem (1994), in this group, pregnant women who were studying had a seven times greater ‘risk’ of marrying than their non-pregnant counterparts, almost as if pregnancy were a ‘precondition’ of marriage for a female student. It is clear that it is now preferred by the overwhelming majority of couples to cohabit. Nevertheless, pregnancy clearly increases the incidence of marriage among childless women cohabiting with a male partner, until recently when a new provision that included a widow’s pension, which triggered a strong increase in the marriage rate among cohabitants. This strongly indicates that it is not so hard to persuade many Swedish cohabitants to change their legal marital status. It may be concluded that for most people – in Sweden at least – the reasons for not marrying are weak and not very ideologically based.
The implications for a woman living with a man changed after the mid-1960s. Judging from the behavior of women born in the late 1930s, most of them must have entered a union to start a family and have children quickly, and almost 30 percent of them were pregnant at the time they started marriage or cohabitation. Many of these children were unplanned; two-thirds of women who became pregnant before the first union formation reported that their pregnancy came too early or was not wanted (Trost 237). By contrast, less then 5 percent of women born in the late 1950s were pregnant when they entered their first union, even though more than twice as many had started a union as teenagers (almost 50 percent compared to less than 20 percent among women born twenty years earlier).
The real postponement of the start of childbearing since the late 1960s manifested itself as a decrease over the groups in age-specific first-birth rates at young ages. Among women born in the early 1940s, only about one-fourth had not entered motherhood by the age of twenty-eight. The corresponding number was as much as 45 percent for women born in the early 1960s. One popular explanation for the postponement of first birth is the improved education for women. Any educational impact on the age at entry into motherhood can hardly have been direct, however, for it is highly questionable whether time spent in school at the relevant ages has been sufficiently extensive to merit any prime role in the story of childbearing in Sweden (Hoem 51). In this country, most women complete their schooling as early as at eighteen or nineteen years of age, and there has been almost no change in the educational pattern at higher ages during the last fifteen years, which is the period of first-birth postponement (Hoem 45). To the extent that there has been an effect of improved education, it must have been indirect, for example via women’’ improved chances in the labor market.
In line with this, it is often argued that it has become successively more important for women to achieve a firm foothold in the labor market before first birth since most Swedish women see themselves as members of the labor force for most of their adult lives. On reason is the regulation covering Swedish leave policy, in which the most extensive improvements in parental benefits have been limited to employed parents. These benefits are based on earnings, which is an inducement to try to achieve as a good a salary as possible before entering motherhood. This will be important not only in order to improve one’s income compensation during parental leave but also for later segments of life when caring for a child may hamper a woman’s ability to improve her income and make progress in her job.
This line of reasoning is probably most valid for more highly educated women, but as a general explanation it is weakened by the fact that most women in Sweden are not employed in jobs with a strong income gradient after the first few years of work. It is therefore hard to believe that most women will earn so much more money by postponing their first birth by two to three extra years after entering permanent employment. On the other hand, there are other reasons besides the obvious economic ones to become established in the labor market before having children (Dey). Most women want a secure job that they enjoy and wish to return to after parental leave. Moreover, even if Swedish parents with a child under the age of eight have a legal right to reduce their working hours, it may be easier to exercise this right and to obtain flexible working hours if they are in a stable and permanent employment. There are no direct indications that more Swedish men and women will want to remain childless in the future, even if an increasing proportion are childless in their late twenties. Childbearing is certainly seen as an important part of a full life, but for many young people it is an issue for a later stage in life.
In Sweden, perhaps more than in other countries, priority is given to ensuring a decent level of living for everyone rather than letting market forces provide a wide range of choices only to those who can afford it. Family policy is one of the cornerstones of the Swedish welfare system and has attracted considerable attention in other countries, especially in recent years when Sweden has had one of the highest fertility rates in Europe and labor-force participation rates for women have been at a record high (Dey).
Sweden does not have an official pro-natalist (pro-life) family policy. Instead, Swedish family policy has been designed with three objectives in mind, namely: to promote equality between men and women; that all childbirths should be wanted childbirths; and to guarantee all children a reasonable standard of living (Laack). Since Swedish family policy is so strongly concerned with equality between men and women, a number of measures have been implemented in order to promote this. In Sweden, the beginning of maternity leave rights for employed women dates back to 1938. Since that time, rights have been extended successively and there is now (since 1989) paid maternity leave for as much as fifteen months. An amount of income compensation has been introduced along the way. At present, the compensation is income related and mounts to 90 percent of pre-tax earnings during the first twelve months of leave. In order to promote gender equality both in the labor market and at home, Sweden became the first country in the world to introduce a system that enables both the father and mother to share the parental leave essentially in any manner that they choose. Working women can take out pregnancy pay for a maximum of fifty days if they are unable to work during the last months of pregnancy. There are also ten ‘daddy days’ of leave for fathers at childbirth. Parents who have an employer, have a right to return to their job after parental leave and may ‘bank’ some of their leave for later use instead of taking it all at once. In fact, the law specifically states that no employer may penalize the career of a working parent because he or she used parental rights (Appleqvist).
Parents are also entitled to compensation for the occasional care of children. Today parents have a legal right to stay at home and take care of a sick child for as much as ninety days a year per child. Parents with children aged from four to twelve years are entitled to two-days’ leave a year per child for parental participation in day-care or school activities. Furthermore, employed parents with a child under the age of eight have the right to reduce their working time by 25 percent, though this is without income compensation. In addition, Sweden has a comprehensive system of heavily subsidized public child-care, including high-quality day care centers, family day-care, and after-school facilities. In 1987, 69 percent of all children from the ages of one to six years had access to public child-care and today the figure is even higher (Hoem 51-54).
Families with children also receive direct public economic support, the most important component of which is the child allowance. Low-income families are entitled to a housing allowance, and there is a system of public child-support advances for lone parents who have difficulties collecting child-support payments from the non-custodial parent.
Some years ago (in 1976) data was collected from a Swedish sample of mothers with small children. In a study done with Trost (1983), they asked the respondents three questions about how serious it was if a child, aged 5-6 years, took things that were not theirs (pilfering) from home or stores. They were also asked three questions about how important it was that a child in this age group thanked, greeted, and had good table manners. The sex of the child was not specified but was done so in a way as to not overestimate the differences between the gender-role expectations of the mother. The results revealed a clear tendency on the part of the mothers of boys to count the activities as less serious and more normal than the mothers of girls did, i.e. boys could be allowed to behave more “negatively” than girls (Trost 239).
Division of labor between the spousesAccording to traditional gender-roles, the mother is the spouse who takes care of, and has the responsibility for, the child or the children, in most respects. In one study the respondents fulfilling four criteria were asked which one of the two parents most often took care of the children in seven respects. The four criteria were: being a woman; being a mother to at least one child younger than 10 years; living together with a man who was gainfully employed; and being herself employed (either part-time or full-time). The result showed that 97 percent of the mothers claimed that the responsibility for the children’s clothes was mostly with the mother; that the mother in 80 percent of the cases had the responsibility for the children’s food; that the mother in 74 percent of the cases mostly stayed at home when the children were sick or went with the children to the physician or dentist; and that the mother in 53 percent of the cases took care of the children at night. The only two instances where the answer “mostly the mother” was less frequent were to the questions, “who consoles the children” and “who plays with the children.” To further emphasize the traditional gender-roles the mothers answered “mostly the father” only in less than 14 percent of the cases, while in the remaining cases the answer was “both parents equally often.”(Trost 241-244).
It is undoubtedly clear that the roles of women in society and in the family have changed considerably. As one indicator of these changes, the rate of women in the work force was used. It was found that the relative number of women being gainfully employed has increased. Not only has the rate increased for women with teenagers or older children but also to a very great extent for women with small children. Today the woman, even a woman with small children, has improved identity, not only as a mother but also as a human being. The high employment rate is not only a reflection of financial needs but also the need for self-realization, self-identity and liberalization. The fertility rate, in a sense, has decreased and the fewer number of children born are born later in a woman’s life and during a shorter timespan. This means that many women in their twenties will finish their educational and occupational training and find a job with a ‘tenure position’ before they give birth to their first child. In order to keep their position in the labor market they take a leave of absence after the birth of the child, a leave of between seven and twelve months after which they return to work. As a general rule, society as a whole has over the last several decades made many attempts to equalize the gender-roles for men and women and even to change their content in various respects. Most Swedes who are active in child socialization activities seem to be very radical and argue for changes in the gender-roles towards equalization. Society demands and claims equality, which is bound to produce some kind of a norm conflict and a risk of deviation from the norm for teenagers and even young adults. Knowing that norms may be in opposition to one another does not have to mean a state of abnormality; it may mean simply taking a stand for one norm or the other.ReferencesHoem, Britta. (1995) The New Role of Women: Sweden. Colorado: Westview Press Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. (1999). Sweden. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Trost, Jan, (1983) The Changing Position of Women in Family and Society: Sweden.(Vol. 34) E.J. Brill, Leiden: The Netherlands1 Appleqvist, Katerina. “Sweden: Folksam and the Women Security Programme (1995).” http://www.wisc.edu/uwcc/icic/orgs/ica/pubs/ica-news/1995/4/folksam.html2. . Dey, Debashish. “Family Planning in Sweden.” http://www.si.se/eng/esverige/familypl.html3. Laack, Stefan. “Thoughts about male involvement: Swedish experiences.”http://www.qweb.kvinnoforum.se/papers/laack2.htmlBibliography:ReferencesHoem, Britta. (1995) The New Role of Women: Sweden. Colorado: Westview Press Inc.
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia. (1999). Sweden. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation.
Trost, Jan, (1983) The Changing Position of Women in Family and Society: Sweden.(Vol. 34) E.J. Brill, Leiden: The NetherlandsWorld Wide Web Resources1 Appleqvist, Katerina. “Sweden: Folksam and the Women Security Programme (1995).” http://www.wisc.edu/uwcc/icic/orgs/ica/pubs/ica-news/1995/4/folksam.html2. . Dey, Debashish. “Family Planning in Sweden.” http://www.si.se/eng/esverige/familypl.html3. Laack, Stefan. “Thoughts about male involvement: Swedish experiences.”http://www.qweb.kvinnoforum.se/papers/laack2.html
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