A Review of Policies and Practices Related to the “Highest-Low” Fertility of Sweden: A 2020 update
preprintposted on 11.11.2020, 08:51 by Gunnar Andersson
Swedish family policies are not directly aimed at encouraging childbirth. Their main goal has rather been to support women’s labor-force participation and to promote gender equality. The focus is to strengthen individuals so that they are able to pursue their family and occupational tracks without being too strongly dependent on other individuals. The reconciliation of family and working life of women has been facilitated by (i) individual taxation and individual-based social-security systems, which makes it less attractive for couples to pursue gendered segregation of work and care, (ii) an income-replacement based parental-leave system, which gives women incentives to establish themselves in the labor market before considering childbirth, and (iii) subsidized child-care, which allows women to return to work after parental leave. Period fertility has fluctuated during the last half a century but, as in the other Nordic countries with a similar welfare-state setup, it has until very recently stayed well above the European average. The Swedish institutional context clearly is conducive to such “highest-low” fertility. In this review, I provide evidence that institutional factors seem to have been far more decisive than cultural ones in shaping childbearing behavior, and demonstrate some specific impacts of family policies on childbearing dynamics.