Sweden’s universal childcare plan

Sweden was an early adopter of a universal childcare plan and it is now seen as a template for other nations that consider such programs themselves.

This study of Sweden’s experience may be of interest, highlighting not just benefits claimed but also some challenges and perceived flaws of the plan. As such it may be a cautionary tale as more populated nations such as the UK, US and Canada consider adopting this model.


The childcare plan had several stated goals:

  • high quality care of children throughout the country regardless of income or social status of the parent
  • universal benefits to parents as cash not tax deductions
  • parental choice about how to raise the children with the state providing care centres or providing funding for care at home
  • recognition of care of children as vital to society and not just a personal decision
  • treating care of children a shared responsibility between the parents and the state

Over time goals were added:

  • women’s equality as personal independent income
  • women able to enter paid work without guilt or concern about the wellbeing of their children in care centres
  • maternity benefits that were not just unpaid leave but now paid leave
  • providing maternity benefits at near replacement salary level
  • fathers taking more of a role in parenting with funding for paternity benefits

Over time the goals gently shifted:

  • obligation of the state to provide nonparental care space for every child from age one year
  • cost of care at these locations to be kept low for parents, capped to be affordable. The state pays about 90% of the cost and in some cases 100% of the cost, offering to parents’ free’ care of the child to entice parents to use this care style
  • restricting the amount of universal cash benefits  so the greatest financial benefit to parents is to use the daycare system
  • restricting at home benefits to short periods of time with a child such as between ages 2 and 3 years or for intervals of child sickness   
  • the state providing two meals a day at  some centres, and  before and after school care
  • keeping centres open nearly 12 hours a day with some open evenings
  • operating the centres all year round

Goals were changed to reassure parents that the care locations were optimal:

  • providing care for special needs children
  • providing care for immigrant and refugee children with language support for over 60 languages
  • responding to concerns expressed by parents about the care at the centres leading to renaming the care ‘preschool’ even from age one
  • shifting management of the care centres to education departments of government  making parents feel confident the centres were educational facilities, and often staffed by teachers
  • reassurance by the state that the care centres provided optimal learning for the young, with resources parents did not have, with the result of gentle eroding of confidence in parents that they were at home able to provide the best care
  • making accounting and management at the centres a key component and requiring data collection from municipalities about clients, staffing and the centres in order for municipalities to get grants. Doing profiles of clients to study provision of services
  • additional state funding of  many projects for research at the centres
  • banning of home schooling or heavy fines for  homeschoolers

Gender equality goals shifted also:

  • interpreting equality as equal paid labor force participation between men and women with less careful study of the pay or job rank of those jobs
  • pressuring men to take parental time with newborns by making it non-transferrable to the woman. Men had to take the time or the benefits were lost
  • providing benefits for maternity that depend on paid work of the mother so not accessible to women without paid labor force attachment
  • providing benefits for paternity that depend on paid work
  • viewing father and mothers as equally responsible for raising the child even though women solely become pregnant, give birth and breastfeed

Provision of care shifted:

  • gradual increase in costs to operate the childcare centres
  • subtle increase in size of groups of children
  • subtle increase in ratio of children to adults
  • requirement of formal training of caregivers is made flexible and many have no training
  • frequent high rates of staff sickness at the centres created crises in finding substitute care. Staff absence is not always easily addressed so group sizes some days were higher than officially recommended

Practical adjustments of the plan over time:

  • increase in taxes to cover the costs of state provision of the care of children
  • subtle changes in the tax plan so that the state gets optimal tax revenue from individual taxes rather than from household based tax, and through compulsory payroll tax and social benefits tax, VAT and other taxes, in separate categories so taxpayers are not as alerted to the many areas of tax, totalling on average 60 % of income
  • downloading responsibility of providing care to the local government

Sweden now is one of the highest taxed nations in the world, to provide this ‘universal’ plan.  It has been successful in reaching some of its goals:

  • increase in paid labor force participation of women
  • near universal use of the childcare facilities for children
  • more uptake of paternity benefit leave time than in many nations

However parents and observers have expressed growing concern about the unintended consequences of the plan:

  • fewer options for parents, effectively lack of choice to afford any lifestyle other than dual income parents using daycare
  • concerns about wellbeing of children with few studies done and those that are done indicating higher levels of aggressiveness, lack of attention to individual interests, and lack of one on one interaction with adults
  • increase in stress levels of children and teens
  • lower academic achievement
  • lack of response by government to poll results that parents want the option of care at home to be more affordable
  • the gradual erosion of respect for parental opinion with the state instructing parents in parenting and som speaking of parents at home as ‘parasites’,
  • erosion of the original goal of partnership between parents and the state in care of children with the balance heavily tilted to the state being the main care provider



1900- Sweden passes an act to protect expectant mothers prohibiting them from having to do industrial work in the two weeks after childbirth.  They could have a time off the job but with no pay.


1920- Sweden has  a significant drop in birth rate after world war one.


1930 – the Swedish government embarks on a welfare state goal

1930- During the Depression, birth rates fell and the decline in  population concerned legislators who feared loss of their tax base of earners.  Some legislators suggested that to get people to have babies, a universal state run care system should be set up, so children from all social classes had the same ‘ opportunities for development”.

1930- Social problems such as low birth rate were of such concern that government began to focus on social engineering to encourage having children. The welfare state was set in place with family allowances..  At first they were not for all families but only selective andmeans-tested but later they were made universal cash benefits..

1934 – Sweden- Gunnar and Alva Myrdal argue for parents and society to share responsibility for child rearing. Alva creates the first daycare centers in Sweden, to assist the family. (Activist Madeleine Wale of the European Federation of Parents and Carers at Home notes in 2021 that the emphasis later shifted so the state assumes most of the responsibility and  assumes the family is weak and does not fund it)

1937 – when women are about to give birth they are not funded unless they have set up their own health insurance plan that gives maternity benefits to cover income loss. These benefits tare linked to paid work and are not for the value of maternity but for the hardship of losing income

1937- women with paid work are given unpaid maternity permission to have time away from the job, though unpaid, and it extends six weeks before and six weeks after childbirth (the claimed benefit is that you get to come back to the paid job.)

1937- A cash allowance for mothers in poverty is set up

1938- low income families got special state grants to pay for meals at school cantines

1939- mothers are now permitted up to 4.5 months away from a paid job unpaid. !2 weeks of this time are to be taken after childbirth (the state also sets parameters for a woman”s allowed management of personal time)

1939 – it was made illegal to fire a woman due to marriage or intended marriage (Interestingly this is a law that forbids government from interfering in personal lifestyle decisions  80 years later its laws  do interfere with lifestyle decisions however by heavily favoring paid work over time at home and pressuring all fathers to to take time tending a baby or the couple loses the benefits)


1943 – Sweden introduced subsidized children to supplement exiting charity run  creches for the poor or kindergartens for the upper class.

1946  – is no longer legal to fire a woman due to pregnancy

1948- child allowance was granted to all families with children under age 16 .The payment wasmade to the mother (as in Canada and other countries where this was often the sole recognition given to the care role mothers usually had)


1950s childbearing and family responsibilities were considered an individual’s decision of no interest to the state, and were not funded

1952 The ILO passes maternity protection legislation and Sweden ratifies it  because some civil servants and some bank workers are paid while  having a baby and the inequality becomes a concern of the public.

1955 – Sweden passes a universal health insurance act to give money to expectant mothers or those who hvave just given birth, but only if they were in paid work.


1960 Sweden had a period of economic growth and there was a labor shortage. Government leaders decided that to get more mothers to join the paid labor force they should expand their low cost childcare system.

1962 – the Social Insurance Code set up a child allowance, a means-tested allowance for housing, an allowance for care of disabled children and an insurance scheme of parental benefits..

1963 a new social insurance code gives pay to mothers on giving birth and extends it to six months, but only for mothers with paid work.  The amount of the benefit is based on income so richer mothers get more maternity benefits. (in a society where in theory equality is a key feature )

1965 – GDP rose in Sweden each year from 1960- 1965 by 9.4%. Unemployment was very low at 2%.  There were calls to get more women into paid work and to use the women’s movement to argue that this move was an emancipation for women and consistent with gender equality.

1968 – the National Commission on Childcare sets daycare/ preschool goals – for stimulating activities combining education and care, for ‘close cooperation between parents  and service providers” and ‘municipal responsibility for full coverage”  (the huge cost this is to local governments requires tax increases over time)

1968- The National Commission on Childcare recommends age-mixed groups, the importance of play, ‘progressive’ and ‘dialogue pedagogy  (which ones assumes means significant one on one time speaking with children.) It also aims at ‘equal conditions for all children’ (this focus on everybody getting an equal chance regardless of parental income, is seen by some as every child raised a standardized way with identical national curriculum less accommodating for individual needs)


1970- family policy is expanded

1970- government chose to make public child care a priority

1970- government viewed publicly provided day care as a way to increase paid employment of women.

1970- the number of children in childcare full time is 71.000

1970- female paid labor force participation is 59.3% and many mothers are still at home with children

1971 – joint taxation is discontinued. Citizens have to file taxes as individuals, in effect as if not married or sharing income.

1971- a commission is set up to create a curriculum for the daycares. It is set with preschool teacher input, teacher input and trade union and employer lobbying. Together they reach the decision to expand daycare so more women can enter paid work.  A women’s commission of the labour market is set up and it makes its case to the social democratic government.

1971 – Sweden moves to individual taxation rather than household based taxation, to entice women to be in the paid labor force and not share income.

1972 – 12% of children aged 1- 6 years are in publicly funded children.  88% are in parental care or informal arrangements.

1974- shared parental leave policy was introduced. Most men however sign over their share of parental leave to their wives. This move however is not encouraged by government which clamps down on it and eventually removes the option.  In 1974 only 0.5% of fathers take the time themselves.

1974- Sweden introduces parental leave to fathers and is the first to do so in the world.  Swedish family policy assumes dual earner houseolds and aims to have men have the same obligations as women.  Having individual based tax with no option for household based tax or income splitting is considered and’incentive ‘ for families to have dual income.

1974 – parental insurance is set up where fathers are also given time from their paid work to take care of a newborn. All parents are entitled to parental  leave under the national insurance plan for at least 80 days before the birth of a child.  The amount is up to 90% of the gross pay of the one who took the benefit.

1974 – Parental leave is paid but has to be shared between parents. This program is designed as an incentive to get women into the paid labor force.

1974 – Prime Minister Olaf  Palme of the Social Democratic Party leads a minority government. He makes the case that men and women should have the ‘same status as parents’ and that neither gender should takethe  main responsibility for parenting.

1975 – the number of men in paid work is 20.3% higher than the number of women in paid work. This difference is usually because many women are home raising children . However the difference is treated by some activists as a flaw and lack of gender equality, and leads to government policy to pressure more mothers to enter paid work,  to reduce that ‘gap’

1975 –  Research projects are  set up as pilots and are funded by government . One, called the MAFF, focuses on flexible uses of preschool premises and personnel.   These projects cost taxpayer money

1975- municipalities have to operate the daycares but get state grants to do so. However to qualify for those grants they must collect data about their services and accurately keep track of the preschool activities. Government taxes are high to fund this administrative level also, collecting information that some observers may feel is invasive about client data.

1975 – A government act to ‘facilitate parents’ involvement in paid labor is passed  setting up a plan for all children to be in daycare, calling it ‘early development and learning”.

1975- the National Preschool Act expands the daycare system providing 525 hours of free placement there, fully funded by taxes and the state. The goal is to entice more women into paid work.  Swedish municipalities now are obliged to provide all 6 year olds with 525 hours of free ‘preschool’ a year or 15 hours per week.

1975 – entitlement to parental benefits was extended  to 7 months and the pay rate was about the same as the sickness benefit at about 90% of former pay

1975- Sweden sets up early care programs for children to be universally available

at low cost. The programs are called ‘early childhood education and care’ or daycare in some countries. In Sweden they are eventually named preschool.

At first the program is for 1- 6 years old but later the school system admits 6 years olds so the earlier care system is for 1-5 year olds.  In these groups the

younger children are 1-3 and the ‘older children’ are 4-5.        

The original intent is to widen choices for parents. However decades later

 Caroline Hoglund of the Swedish National Association of Stay at Home

moms, notes that the plan changed and now strongly provides funding preference to state run daycare, making care by a parent at home both unfunded and socially stigmatized.

1975 – parents only have to pay 15% of the cost of a daycare spot and this number was kept low as an incentive for women to have paid work.   Government admits a goal to ‘overcome public resistance against leaving children ‘ with others.

1975 – government now claims that the daycare system provides resources that an ordinary family lacks and that it provides children with social skills they may not get at home (this tone then was to replace or improve on parents)

1975 – Training of more staff for the daycare/ preschools is planned.  Since 1962 there has been  a Preschool Teacher Training College but as of 1975 this training is transferred to the higher education sector. Annually 5000 grads are expected rather than 2000 of earlier years.

1975 – the requirement  individual taxation of married couples is  a way to generate higher tax revenue for government, to help pay for the childcare program. There is also a special levy placed on employers to finance the plan.

1978 – the parental benefit is extended to 9 months

1978 – the women’s caucus of the Social Democratic party publishes “The Family of the Future” as a socialist family policy calling for  more state-run daycare. The goals include better outcomes for children’s social development, class ‘equity’ and gender ‘equity’ to nudge women away from being mothers at home.

1979- parents were legally allowed to reduce their paid work time to 75% if the child was under age 8 (It is not clear if this was at full pay or also 75% pay)


1980- the parental benefit for either parent was extended to 12 months and either parent could take it full time or part time.

1980- Sweden had strict regulations over group size and over adult-child ratios. Over the next few years however these standards changed and group sizes got bigger. Some observers feel the ‘quality’ of the care suffered though Sweden still claims to offer high -quality care.

1980-  Sweden spends 1.68% of its GDP on childcare

1980 – due to government policy changes and pressure, 36% of children aged 1-6 years were now in publicly funded children

1983 birth rates starts to rise..

1984- there is an increase in numbers of couples who cohabit and do not marry,and an increase  in divorce numbers and in numbers of singles living alone. Sweden has one of the highest divorce rates in the western world.  Some observers attribute this to social and tax policy that devalues family as an economic unit.

1984 – government subsidizes not only child care fees but also gives money for local development projects in that sector,  at 14.5 million per year. Around 1000 projects are funded over 7 years to do ‘research’

1984- a Swedish survey finds that 81% feel government has put state rights over individual rights.

1985 – Parliament expands public childcare

1985- government establishes  that all children aged 1- 6 years have the ‘right’ to state run care if their parents are in paid work, are students or if the child has special needs.

1985 – the municipalities that operate the daycares are given more autonomy and the daycare system becomes decentralized. The role of Health and Welfare state departments decreases.

1987 –  Dagens Nyheter poll finds that 60% of women would prefer a childcare allowance rather than  spending on daycare, so that parents who wanted to be home or purchase private daycare could also choose that.  Government policy however does not change.

1987 – government sets up a pedagogical program for the daycares/ preschools and one for the leisure time centres. The expressed goal is to have ‘even quality’ for all centres and to facilitate evaluation and supervision.

1988 – The participation of women in the paid labor force goes from 59.3% in 1970 to 81.7% in 1988.

1988- female paid labor force participation is now 81.7%, having gone up 0.6-2.7% each year after heavy pressure from the state to urge mothers to leave the home and put the children in childcare

1988- children born after 1 October of 1988 get a benefit for 450 days, the first 360 0f which are paid at 90 % of parent’s normal salary. For the last 90 days the standard amount of 60 SEK per day is paid (the benefit is only for those who had previous paid work)

1988- the parental benefit can be used for one parent to be home full time or combined with part time paid work for that period. Payment can be deferred till the child is age 8 years but is not increased for that extension.


1990- population of Sweden in 8.6 million. Numbers of children aged 0-6 are 764,864, those 7-9 number 288.945 and those 10-12 number 294.499.  The population of the US is 252 million, that of the UK is 57 million and that of Canada 27 million. Some commentators suggest that the small population of Sweden may make operation of a childcare system nationally quite a different challenge that in a more populous country.

1990- birth rate is 2.14 women , fourth highest figure in Europe

1990- the average group size in daycare is 14 children with a ratio of 4.2 children per adult.  Children under age 3 are in groups of 8- 9 children with one adult for every 2-3 children.

1990 – there were some cutbacks to the parental leave benefits. A new goal was to achieve gender equality.  When most of those who took the benefit were women, government adopted a policy to pressure men to take the leave instead.   Only 10% of fathers were taking the benefit.

1990- the total cost of the childcare program is now $35 billion. It is now over ten times the amount spent 15 years earlier.  This rate of expansion is the highest of any sector of the economy.

1990- Parental fees are 10-15% of the actual cost of care and the state pays the rest.

The parent pays 10% for the before and after school care, 11% for daycare and 15% for the daycare in a family home where a parent provides paid care of children of someone else.

1990- 57% of all children aged 1-6 years were in daycare.


1991- 55% of preschool children are in care outside the home and45% are in care solely by parents. Some of the group of parents listed as at home are parents on parental leave, with a paid job working from home, listed as ‘unemployed’ or students.

1991 – the state subsidizes cost of care per child  and pays extra for staff training and for special needs children.  There is an extra subsidy to centres open at night or with extended hours.

1991 – 48% of all children aged 3 months- 6 years are in public childcare, 71% are at daycare centres and 29%  are in paid care in family home by a paid caregiver of children of others.

1991 – all children over age 18 months are required to be provided for with a space in a childcare centre

1991- federal budget allows SEK 13 billion per year for childcare

1991 – election- A new government is chosen and the public has rejected some socialist policies.  The new government promises to give parents more freedom of choice. Those who prefer to be home with their children are to be given ‘better economic chances’ to do so.

1991 – there is a downturn in the Swedish economy. A new centre right coalition of political parties forms. Private organizations for the first time are allowed to compete with municipalities to operate daycares and qualify for grants. 

1991- Birth rate goes up.  State grants for preschools are reduced during an economic downturn however.


1992 – Sweden offers child allowance of 900 kroner  per year for children to  age 16 and up to 450 days paid parental leave, with 360 days paid at 90 % of parent’s normal pay (so based on paid work) and up to 60 days of paid leave per year to tend a sick child

1992 – Childcare is considered a public responsibility financed by state, local municipalities and parent fees. Part time preschool and part-time group care pay no fees and the state pays the entire cost through taxes

1992 -public childcare is for children aged 18 months to 6-7 years. There are before and after school care locations called  leisure time centres for children aged 6-7 to 12. The goal is give parents ‘freedom of choice’ to make the child care arrangements they ‘prefer’

1992- there is parental insurance so parents can access compensation for income loss when home with a baby or sick child.

1992- first time mothers are on average 27 years old

1992 – Sweden passes a law against parents using any corporal  punishment of children 

1992- 80 % of Swedish women with children under age 7 are in paid work

1992- The tax system is changed to require individual income base and is no longer on the basis of household or family income.  It is assumed income is not shared and income is not permitted to be shared to reduce tax. The principle cited is that each individual should be financially independent and unpaid care work is not counted as a contribution.

1992 – A parental insurance plan  for care of a sick child is created to compensate for income loss (so also based on having paid work) and provides maximum 60 days per year till age 12.  For children aged 4 years to 12 years parents can take two days off per child per year for parental education or to visit the child’s preschool, school or leisure time centre.  Parental insurance policy prefers that father and mothers share the time.

1992- Parents get a child allowance till the child is 16 years old. Those aged 16-18 can also get this allowance as a student grant is they are in school. The child allowance is 9000 SEK per child per year

1992 – Grants are given to private day nurseries to operate as unregistered firms, limited companies or non profit housing services. This is not funding to parents.

1992 – Part time groups for 6 years olds are free of charge to parents, paid for entirely by the state to nudge mothers into paid work.

1992 – Sweden has a currency crash, a banking crash and a property value crash. Government has to subsidize banks to stay in operation.

1992 – A model of funding is begun where parents can get payment if they look after someone else’s children along with their own. This is called the Uppsala Model.  Only a a few municipalities use it however

1992 – Preschool programs aim at children getting ‘loving care’ and a chance to develop ”their own personality and skills’ and to ‘increase awareness of their own identity’ as well as to foster ‘democratic values’.

1992 -the preschool officially aim to ‘complement the home”

1992 -infant group aged 1-2 years has 10-12 children per group Ratio is 2 staff to 5 children

 The sibling group aged 3-6 years has 15-18 children per group. Ratio is one adult to 5


 The extended sibling group aged 1-12 years has 15- 18 children per group.Ratio is

1-2 staff per five children

1992 – nearly 15% of children in daycare are from a second language community.      

The preschool goals officially are to enable bilingualism and ‘secure cultural’

identity’ for immigrant and refugee children. It is found that children

come from 60 language backgrounds.  Accommodating the  language needs of these diverse groups becomes economically challenging at the childcare centre.

1992 – daycare centres (daghem ) tend children aged 1-6 years. They are open 6:30 AM to 6PM Monday to Friday, 12 months of the year.

1992 – most daycare centres have groups, each with 15- 18 children. Ratios are

mixed aged groups – aged 3-6 years- 15 -18 per group, 3 adults, one or two of whom are teachers

for aged 4-6 years – 20 children per group, 2 adults, one of whom is a teacher

for aged 6/7 – 12 years – leisure time centre – before and after school and on

school holidays- 15-20 per group, 2 staff not usually teachers

1992 there is a ‘family daycare ‘ program  (familjedaghme)- where the municipality hires child minders to tend children aged 1- 12 years in the person’s own home. There can be no more than 4 children in addition to the children of the hired child minder though reports indicate this number of four is often exceeded.

1992 – divorce law gives access automatically to both parents


1993 – it is admitted by government that Swedish tax rates are very high. Some estimates are that when all taxes are counted the average tax rate is 60% of income according to Katarina Runske. However the state argues that these taxes help ensure social benefits.  Krister Pettersson tell the press that Swedes are the highest taxed people in the world.

1993 Sweden has increased its spending on the childcare programs to 2.13% of its GDP

1993 – The gvernment social welfare system is now a big employer. The ratio of workers paid by the state – including daycare workers, teachers, civil servants, doctors –

 compared to private sector workers is 2:1. 

1993 – Sweden now has a budget deficit of 14% of GDP. Britain’s deficit was 8%, Italy’s 10%. Sweden’s was the highest in Europe


1995 – Of  the 15 months of parental benefits, the state now requires that the father has to be the one taking one of those months.

1995- There is rising unemployment and with it come rising rates of poverty in Sweden. The state decides not to provide more tax breaks for families but to provide more low cost daycare.

1995 – Birth rate in Sweden is about 1.8 ( below the replacement level of 2.2)

1995 – parents pay about 10 % of the cost of a child being in childcare and the state pays 90% of the cost, through taxes. The total cost to have a child in daycare for a year is estimated at $10,000.

1995- all municipalities are obliged to provide the childcare for every child in the area, from age one.

1995 – Social welfare Professor Neil Gilbert estimates that an average production worker pays 62% of their income in tax, and an executive may pay 71% of income in tax.


1996 – Government decides to integrate preschool and childcare, and to call it all preschool. It sets up a national curriculum for those settings for all children.

1996- as government makes it less financially attractive for mothers to take parental leave and more financially rewarding to have fathers get funding if they take the leave instead, more fathers do take parental leave. Numbers are now 10.6% of fathers.  This still meant however that 90% of the parental leave was taken by women.  Government moved to set up a ‘daddy quota’ to force men to take the leave.  30 days of parental leave were given  only to fathers and if the father did not take it, the paid leave was lost for the couple, not available to be transferred to the mother. 


1997- Parliament passes a law to require all municipalities to offer school starting at age 6 not 7 as before

1997- 73% of all children aged 1- 6 years were in daycare

1997- Sweden how spends SEK 38.5 million per year on childcare which is 2.3% of its GDP (more than double the percent of a generation earlier)  67% of the money goes to preschool/daycare centres, 15% to family run centres and 18% to before and after school care.


1998- Sweden- the name of institutional care of children is changed. It is no longer called childcare but ‘preschool’ even for babies.  This creates the impression that children are getting an education at such locations that they are deprived of when at home, according to advocacy group HARO.  Mothers at home are told their children are missing out on social training.

1998- Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics surveys women and find that preferences were 20% to be home full time with the children, 60% wanted part time paid work and only 20% wanted full time paid work.

1998- due to heavy pressure to have women in paid work and the financial assistance there, numbers of children in daycare surge. There are now 720,000 there, 10 times as many as a generation earlier.  73% of all children between aged 1- 5 years are in childcare centres or family daycare centres.


2000 Swedish economy rebounds and grants are introduced again for some preschool programs.

2000- All children are now given the ‘right’ to attend daycare/ preschool at the very low cost, with no parallel funding to parental care.


2002 -The Barcelona Objectives set up a goal of most mothers at paid work. To achieve that goal Sweden also aims at 90% of children aged 3 to school age being in a childcare centre with at least 33% from birth to age 2 being at such centres.

2002- 75% of children aged 1-5 are in daycare

2002 – Parent fees for preschools and for after school care are kept low and a maximum tax (Maxtaxa) is set up. Even though fees are based on parental income, there is a maximum fee set annually.

2002- Fathers can get now 60 days not just 30 of parental leave, though if they do not take it they cannot transfer it to the mother and the couple loses that income

2002- Of the 15 months of parental benefits the state now requires that the father must be the one taking two of those months

2002- daycare run by the state was made less costly to parents and more heavily subsidized by government. The maximum fee (maxtaxa) was introduced, so that however many hours a child spent in care and regardless of how many children you had or how much you earned, the most you would have to pay was SEK 2574 (CAD $400) a month.  A low income family with one child may be paying less than half that at CAD $150 a month.


2005 – Swedish mothers have a high rate of sick leave compared to rates in other European countries.  Many say anecdotally that they feel coerced to leave their one year olds in childcare.


2006- A government publication studying mental health among 15 year olds finds that levels of good health have declined from 1986 to 2002 at rates faster than in eleven other European countries.

2006 – the rate of sick leave has doubled from the 1999 rates. On any given day 20% of the Swedish paid work force is away from the job due to sickness or disability.  The OECD and International Monetary Fund express a concern that Sweden is not managing these arrangements appropriately.


2007-   Britta Johansson writes in the Swedish daily “Svenska Dagbladet” a school study observing that having public full day childcare has not enabled parents to bond with and fully get to know their children. She observes that they are less confident in their own parenting skills or ability to set limits and says that parents are being told that the experts on care of children are the childcare workers.

2007 – a daycare spot for one child costs about 130,000 SEK per year to operate but parents pay only 12,000 SEK of that or 9.2%.

2007- the public school system is now required to consider the childcare/ preschool program part of education . The totalcosts of education now soar.  The public school system unable to meet the costs starts to charge per pupil in some cases 15-30% of the operating cost.

2007 – Jonas Himmelstrand writes ‘Following your heart in the social utopia of Sweden”.  He studies daycare, attachment, and family and is concerned about the erosion of quality of care at the daycares.

2007- a new government is elected but tax rates remain high.  Some estimates are that on average an earner pays 65% of income in tax,   Krister Pettersson says that ordinary citizens are not always aware of the taxes being deducted since some are spot taxes, energy taxes, a VAT tax of 25% on most purchases, taxes paid directly from the paycheque through the employer collecting them.  Employees see their paycheque but may not be aware of how much was taken off for various taxes.


2008- Sweden introduces a voucher system which would give parents more choices among options all non-parental care at a paid setting

2008- Sweden introduces a child- raising allowance  to give parents more choices. It is only for those aged 1- 3 years and it is not offered in all municipalities.


2009- Sweden passes legislation to provide ‘support services’ to help parents parent including giving them ‘knowledge about children’s health, emotional, cognitive and social development”

2009 – A study of daycare is done outlining some risks to healthy development . It is entitled’ Daycare for the Smallest Children- for Good and for Bad.


2010- the preschool/daycare curriculum is revised.

2010 – all 3 year olds are now eligible to get free (fully funded by the state) daycare for 525 hours.


2011- Sweden- Homeschooling is made illegal as the state moves to take over more of the development of children. There is a fine for homeschoolers and parents who homeschool are at risk of losing custody of the child.


2012 – 84%  of children age 1-5 were in daycare, higher than most of the EU

2012 – Jonas Himmelstrand who lived in Sweden with his wife and 3 children was  fined 11,000 euros ($16,000 CAD) for home schooling and by 2015 his family moved to a Swedish speaking province in Finland.

2012 – the Programme for International Student Assessment is a tool used by the Operation for Economic Cooperation and Development to rank academic outcomes across nations  It finds that between 2000 and 2003 the scores in Sweden for 15 year olds in math, science and reading were above average but by 2012 scores had gone well below average.  The OECD identifies some system wide problems in Swedish education. Andreas Schleicher who wrote the report says there is a need to raise standards and aspirations of students and to have better teacher performance.  A high degree of disorder is noted in classrooms, including truancy, tardiness, bad language and disorderly behavior.


2013 Sweden-  Deficiencies are reported in the national daycare system, where there are high  numbers of children per group, and high sick leave rates among staff.

2013-In Sweden an opinion poll by the triweekly paper Varlden Ida surveyed parents about preferences and found:

-64% of those asked felt a child should be home with a parent optimally till the child is 4 years old. Only 27% disagreed..

In Sweden government policy massively funds nonparental  care instead of parental.  80% of toddlers are in institutional daycare.

-The survey found that many members of the ruling Social Democrat party members also felt parental care best.  76% of blue collar union members also said home care is preferable.


2014- the child allowance or barnbidrag is a flat tax-free amount of 115 euros per month, paid to the mother, and no application for it is required. It is automatic and universal and paid till the child is aged 16. (the amount is small, and the low cost childcare is a benefit on top of this so those who use the childcare system get the universal benefit plus the low cost childcare while parents at home get only the universal allowance)

 2014 some municipalities offer a means-tested child-raising allowance which provides ‘greater opportunities’ for a parent to be home with a child aged 1-3 years . However the only ones who qualify are parents who have used 250 ore more days of parental leave which is based on paid work. The maximum amount of this child-raising allowance for a parent at home is about 325 euros a month which is noted by many observers as ‘very low”

2014 –  The Public Health Agency (Folkhalsomyndigheten) finds that  for girls rates of poor mental health moved from 9- 30% over the course of 1986- 2002 and remained at high levels in 2014.  The study examined anxiety a trend seen regardless of parental socio economic status.  The Public Health Agency in assessing these numbers suggests however that they are not traced to early childcare but to a tough labor market or cultural changes such as increased individualisation.

2014 –  Professor Ulla Waldenstrom writes “Are the Children Doing Alright in Daycare?” asking that more research be done on effects of this daycare policy and bemoaning the lack of such research since the 1980s.

2014 – OECD finds that Sweden ranks first of 43 countries in the number of mothers in paid work, with a tally of  83% of mothers.  Men’s involvement is only slightly higher at 86.7% making Sweden the OECD nation with the lowest ‘gap’ between male and female paid work. The fact both are now away from home is cited as part of gender equality.

2014 – Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announces that the Convention on the Rights of the Child at the UN will be implemented by his government by 2020.

2014 – Fathers take 25% of the parental leave time the couple gets, mostly due to ‘use ir or lose it ‘ policy that denies men the option of letting their spouse take the benefit time

2014- Sweden spends about 3% of its GDP on direct cash benefits for children and families and this is one of the highest shares in the EU.   In addition it provides highly subsidized childcare and free health care and free dental care.  The Swedish welfare state offers what is are claimed to be ‘universal’ benefits not selective benefits (though it is encouraging only one lifestyle)

2014- Sweden has a progressive tax system with higher earners paying higher tax. However its benefits for maternity are prorated to income so the rich get higher benefits. Government argues that tax reductions for children instead of cash benefits or low cost daycare would be unfair because they would disproportionately benefit the rich.

2014 – Sweden has the highest female paid labor force participation rate in the EU, and claims this is a ‘strong’ position for women in the labor market

2014- Sweden now claims to have a high fertility rate (almost at replacement level)

2014 – public daycare is now guaranteed full time for use of all parents. Each municipality is responsible for providing it

2014- preschool (forskola) also called daycare (dagis) is guaranteed for all children aged 1-5 years. It is free for those are attend up to 15 hours a week and are aged 3-6 in which case the state and taxes cove the entire cost.  Fees otherwise depend on parental income but the maximum is 150 euros a month.  The fee at most is 3% of family monthly income. On average parents pay only 10% of the cost and the state and taxes pay the rest.

2014 -25 % of fathers now take part of the parental leave time. State pressure to do so or the couple loses benefits is cited as a success for those who advocate for gender equality

2014- A parent is allowed to be on full time parental leave until the child is age 18 months. Parental benefits provide funding and parents are paid for 480 days for the first child. For 390 of those days the pay is based on former income at about 80% of gross income. There is also a cap on pay for this benefit of 105 euros a day.  The other 90 days are paid at a flat rate of 20 euros a day (\one can see that the benefit therefore is very small in comparison to per day funding for children to be put into 3rd party care)   New legislation also changes these numbers so for a child born after Jan 1 2014 each parent gets 195 days at the 80% pay level and 45 days at the minimum level- meaning the amounts have not changed but the parents now are obliged to each take turns with the child and not  permitted to have one be the caregiver exclusively)

2014 -OECD reports that 65% of women aged 15-64 years who have at least one child

aged  14 or under are in full -time or part time paid work. In Sweden that

number is 83% so the universal childcare program has nudged more women

into paid work.

2014 Sweden – Ulla Waldenstrom of the Karolinska Institute publishes a book studying the effect of preschool (daycare) on children’s development. As a school psychologist she bemoans the lack of research on long term effects of the childcare programs


2015- in daycare children under age 3 are often in groups of 17, much higher than the 14 of 1990. With increase in group size small children endure more noise in the room, and less chance of getting individual attention to their questions, needs or interests.

2015 -rates of taking sick leave are very high among childcare staff.  It is noticed that often a substitute is not available during such absence so that some days a group of 17 children under age 3 may be supervised not by 3 but by 2 adults.

2015 -daycare is subsidized by the state per year at a rate of $18,000- $23,000 CAD per child. This means that government is paying per child an amount higher than some adults earn, in order to put one child in a 3rd party childcare facility.  Parents who want to be home with a child do not get the same amount of money for care they provide.  Those who insist on being home with a child are not breaking the law but are often moved towards poverty.  Over 90 % of Swedish children are now in daycare from age 18 months.

2015 – Sick leave is taken more by Swedish women than in most other European countries.  Half of all women who leave the paid job before age 65 cite psycho-social stress as a reason.

2015   The cost of daycare is at most $150 a month and includes two meals a day.  There are bilingual daycares (parents are encouraged to call them schools) where a child can learn for instance Swedish and English.  Sweden also operates a gender neutral school where teachers refer to students not as him or her and books and toys are selected to avoid traditional gender stereotypes.

2015 – The childcare benefit to be home with a sick child is called Vabbing, The paid sick time is often used by parents and anecdotally the month of February with high incidence of head colds is sometimes nicknamed Vabruary.

2015 – 70% of mothers of children under age 7 have paid work.  Some observers note that the number at paid work may be inflated because those who are on sick leave are counted as at paid work and there are high rates of absenteeism due to sickness.

2015- IMU and Sifu polls indicate that 67% of parents would prefer a more equitable distribution of funding to help with costs of raising children, rather than preferential funding for use of 3rd party daycare.

2015- private or denominationally run schools are forbidden in Sweden.   Observer Erin Brodin expresses a concern that not permitting them may be a contravention of the UN convention that outlines the right of parents to determine which education matches their values.

2015 – some observers express concern that the term ‘family’ is being erased from some official documents even though international human rights legislation names the family as a basic unit of society.

2015 – rising suicide rates in Sweden have been noted by Anne Applebaum and Dr. Patrician Morgan of the UK.


2016 Sweden A home care allowance for those with children at home was

removed because as one official stated, women might use it. Some observers

claimed therefore it was gender biased. One politician also claimed

according to HARO, advocacy group, that the allowance ” made other

mothers feel guilty”

2016- fathers can now get 90 days of parental leave up from 30 or 60 days of earlier legislation. However they cannot transfer it to the mother. If they do not take it the benefit is lost to the couple. This financial pressure or social engineering is argued by the state as good for gender equality.


2018- The Swedish government makes a video to inform new immigrants that the norm is in Sweden is that ” both mothers and fathers work and children go to childcare”.It is not illegal to be home with a child but there are movements by some activists to make it so, and to make use of the state run childcare mandatory.

2018- Swedish Parliament votes to make the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child law in Sweden in 2020. . Observers note however that this convention defends the right of a child to be raised in a family setting with the values and language of the parent and with parents the key experts about the best interests of the child.


2019 – In Sweden the average age of a woman to have a first child is now 29.6 years.

2019 Sweden  – training of staff at the childcare centres for 1-5 year olds varies.

40% of staff have a 3 year university degree as teachers

20% have a high school or other diploma for childcare

40% have no formal training for care of children

2019- Sweden spends $10 billion per year on third party childcare to maintain its universal system. Taxes go up to cover these costs.

2019 – Sweden-  33% of women aged 16-29 report feeling stressed and sick leave among that group, where universal childcare is heavily encouraged, has gone up 370 % since 2011


2020 Birth rate sinks to 1.66 children per woman, well below the 2.2 replacement             level.

2020- Sweden-  OECD finds that since 2005 80 % of mothers with small children and 90% of fathers with small children are at paid work (some see this as a success of

women’s rights of the universal childcare funding. However others see this as

evidence of financial and social pressure to work outside the home)

2020 Denmark – Advocacy group HARO reports that hidden cameras were placed in some government run childcare centres and numbers were tallied of adult-child  interactions. One 3 year old over the course of  5.5 hours got 17 minutes of time with an adult.    One child there for 7 hours got 6 minutes of one on one time with an adult.


2021 – Swedes pay taxes to the municipality, to the county council and to the central government.  The employer deducts their income tax which is paid directly then to the  Swedish Tax Agency.  The effective tax rate in Sweden is among the highest in the world.. Through their paid work, employees also make social security payments which are administered through the employer who then pays those contributions to the state tax agency also. 

2021 – a large portion of taxes is directed to state-run programs. 5% goes to police and the military, 27% to education and health care and 42% to social security. There is a value added tax of 25% for goods and services, though food and hotel room rental fees are taxed less ( 12%). Admission tickets to cultural events and travel within  Sweden are taxed at 6%.

2021 – The tax system is progressive, so that the rich pay proportionately more of their income than do the poor.  The rates vary from 7% on incomes around 20.008 kroner up to the top rate of 60.1% on incomes above 675,700 kroner.  For an average salary the direct tax rate is 32%. However this is only one of the taxes paid.

2021- Municipalities are responsible for childcare . It is not called childcare, daycare or early childhood care but all ‘preschool’ (forskola) or educational care (pedagogisk omsorg) This starts at age one.

2021 – Expectant mothers are assumed to need and are given free or subsidized coaching sessions about giving birth.

2021- when a child is born the parental leave is 480 days.  Each parent is entitled to 240 days and these cannot be transferred to the other parent.  This means that if a couple choose to have a mother home full time while the father is at  paid work, they will only get half the benefits of a couple where the parents take turns with the child.

2021- the childcare system now calls itself an education system not a health care or social system and is labelled Educare.  Fees are proportional to parental income but the maximum is still very low (Australian $200 per month)  The state has set up significant incentives to use this program offering the first 525 hours of care for 3 year  olds free of charge to parents- the state and taxpayers pay the full cost.

2021 – the philosophy of childcare is that the system should be ‘accessible, affordable” and provide a stimulating environment so parents feel ‘comfortable leaving their children” and that all parents, of all incomes and both genders should have the same childcare opportunities..  The assumption is that the economy benefits most and productivity is highest if both parents have paid work.  In five Nordic countries – Iceland  Slovenia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden- there are similar programs of nationally subsidized childcare programs to entice large numbers of women to have paid work by making this a very inexpensive way to raise children and all other ways more expensive.

2021- Sweden keeps the cost of childcare very low so that families pay 4% of income for it, compared to 30% of many other OECD countries. This low cost is enabled because the state pays the other proportion though taxes on the general public.

2021 – Parents now get 16 months parental leave, the first 12 months being at 80 % salary. They also get a child allowance each month at SEK 1,050 ($113 Australian per month ) per child.  The cost of daycare (called preschool) is kept low at SEK 200 per month (about $23 Australian per month)

2021 – government has legislated that anyone with a baby stroller or baby carriage (pram or push chair) can travel free on buses in major cities.

2021 – Sweden- Madeleine Wallin of FEFAS notes that since universal childcare started at age 1 for many children, breastfeeding rates have dropped. In 1998 93% of women breast fed but now only 75% do. Mothers still breastfeeding at six months have gone from 39% in 1998 to 13% today.

2021 – Sweden –

The fee for daycare (preschool) is low, based on income, number of children and number ofhours per day the child is at the center

The fee is about $180 a month (For a 20 day month that would be $9 a day)

Parents pay 8% of the total cost and government pays the other 92%    

71% of parents use these centers

At family daycare which is government funded care outside the family but in a private family setting the funding is the same as for center based care but the group sizes are

smaller. 29 % of families use these centres

2021  – Sweden  – parental benefits for care of children

-480 days at a pay similar to that of sick leave, a high percent of salary but

not quite full salary

-of the 480 days 210 of them can be taken by either parent

-currently 70% is taken by the women and 30% by the men

-parents can add to that 90 days at very low pay.. All of those 90 days can

be taken by either parent but to a maximum of 50% of time each (this creates

an obligation of fathers to participate or benefits are lost)

2021 –  Sweden – there are around 10,000 daycare (preschool) centres in Sweden.

Half of one year olds are at the centers

Parental benefits end at age 18 months and more children then enter

85% of 1-5 year olds are in the centers

93% of 2-5 year olds are at these centers

2021 – Sweden – the number of children per group at a childcare centre is increasing.    

Barnverket, an NGO focusing on good care of children  recommend for 1-3       year olds maximum group size of 10 and for those aged 4-5 maximum group size of 15
National guidelines  are 6-12 for 1-3 year olds and 9-15 for 4-5 year olds so slightly higher than the advocacy group recommends. However statistics show that actual group sizes are larger than both of those recommendations. Actual  numbers are 12.2  one to three year olds in the same group, and 15.5 four and five year olds in the same group.

Group size affects the noise level of the group and the likelihood of getting individual attention.

2021 – Sweden  Preschool /daycare teachers are the group that takes the most sick leave of all professional groups in Sweden. The explanations include that the job is stressful, that they are overworked  and that children also get sick and their infections spread.  Many advocates recommend that centres have  on staff permanently employed replacement staff in case of sick leave.

2021- though Sweden has many women in paid work, some observers note that many of those jobs are low paid public sector jobs while jobs for men are still better paid and more often in the private sector. Many of these new jobs for women are at the daycare centres where they are paid to tend children of other people, and are dubbed ‘public mothers’.

2021 – Often parents in Sweden do not have to pay more than 3% of their income for childcare. In Denmark the cost of state run care is kept at about 11% of parental income but in Canada parents often pay 30% of income for such care. The government of Sweden points this out as a benefit to parents, though it is achieved by high general taxes

2021 – Statistics Sweden each year collects administrative information about the childcare programs including numbers of children, demographics of families, languages spoken, numbers and education of staff, and the hours of each facility. The information is analyzed and policy is adjusted. For instance when it was found that more white collar workers used the municipal daycares for their children than did blue collar workers, hours of the daycare were extended so the blue collar work shifts could be accommodated.

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