Why can Swedes take on so much college debt?

College in Sweden is free. But rent isn’t. And food isn’t. Neither is the beer that fuels the relatively infrequent, yet legendary, binges in which some Swedes partake.

via College in Sweden is free but students still have a ton of debt. How can that be? – Quartz.

I write often for Quartz so was a bit chagrined to find that this basic element of Swedish life – the huge level of student debt – was noteworthy.  It’s just part of life here.  The article is interesting because it also gets into why northern Europeans are willing to take on so much debt to get out of the house early, in comparison with southern Europeans.

It’s also interesting to ponder that student debt in Sweden is not considered the crushing burden it is in the US, even though it’s a lifetime thing.  Maybe it’s because the rest of the safety net makes it possible to live with the debt without fear of crashing into a dark hole.  Just a thought.

Monday links – Europe works, the US tax code does not, and thank goodness for subsidized preschool

Going to try something – just links I’ve liked over the past week or two.  It’s everything I would put on Facebook if I did much on Facebook or if anybody who comes here saw my Facebook page.

Why Is Europe a Dirty Word?  – This column from Nicholas Kristoff in the New York Times is superficial but important because it recognizes all the ways that Europe works, in contrast to important ways the US does not.  I think most Americans would be surprised to learn how many people see the US as a sort of failed state.

Behind Every Great Woman – BusinessWeek wrote a cover story about the men who stay at home to support their successful wives.  The problem?  It’s about role reversal, not equality.  A very small step.

Homemaker Dad, Breadwinner Mom – In a blog entry at the New York Times, Nancy Folbre takes on my point above.   And she gets into detail about something my wife figured out the first time we did our taxes in the US.  The system is so biased towards a stay-at-home parent that it makes almost no sense for many spouses – men or women – to work.  In Sweden, of course, both spouses have to work, which is another kind of pressure, but at least a more fair one.  Why not support child care activities and others tax breaks that would allow everyone to go to work – while preserving choice – instead of penalizing mostly women who often do go back to work but for what comes out to insulting wages?

Pre-K Converts – Which brings me to this post from DadWagon, in which Nathan Thornburgh talks about the sad state, and ridiculous cost, of pre-K education in New York City, but also the whole US.   Excuse me while I go metaphorically kiss the stable, competitive, yet secure Swedish welfare state.


dreaming of bread, roses and joe hill in the stockholm subway

When we moved to Sweden three years ago, I stared every morning at a quote etched in the floor at the Näckrösen subway stop.  It was by Joe Hill, who I knew nothing about, but it was beautiful.  In English it goes something like this, “Give us not only bread, but roses too.”

It summed up everything I liked about Sweden, about the welfare state, about the reasons we more or less fled the New York City exurbs for a land of paid parental leave and universal healthcare.  I’ve meant to write about that quote for three years.  And yesterday I finally did at The Faster Times, where I am the news and politics editor and write the Big News column.

Here is the lede:

“Ninety-five years ago last week, the government of Utah murdered Joe Hill, lining him up and shooting him for a murder he might or might not have committed.

Hill was a labor activist and song writer, an immigrant with a checkered past, a fighter willing to dedicate his life to a cause – the kind of man the American left does not produce anymore, or if it does, the kind of man the American left ignores.

This is important with the rise of the passionate Tea Party and with the lack of a counterweight to the organized American right, with a president who wants to get things done, but seems to need to be led by the people, not to lead them.

Hill was born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, which happens to be my wife’s hometown.  His birthplace there is a museum, with a twisted tortured statue outside.  I visited the house years ago on a frigid February day, wracked with the flu on a failed travel book tryout.  The museum was closed, so I did not read then about the hard knock misery of 19th century Sweden, the kind of poverty that drove a quarter of the country to the United States.

But a Swedish February day was not a bad time to go – it helped me understand in a more visceral way why a man like Hill would wander into the American desert, fleeing all the darkness and illness that still drop like a veil over the country in the winter … with the world class safety net still decades away …”

You can finish the story here.

the welfare state giveth, the welfare state taketh away

My son was sick yesterday, so the Swedish state paid me to stay home with him, a one day trip back to Daddyland.

It was one of those good sick days.  He was much too sick for daycare but healthy enough to run and play and laugh.  He is the same age now as his big sister was when I was home on paternity leave with her.  And our children do hit some sweet spot about 21 months, both standing up in their chairs at the table and shouting, “HAPPY!”  And then kissing me over and over.

It was such a relaxing day of puzzles and rolling around on the bed, that it made me realize how slightly chaotic and slightly stressful my last paternity leave actually was.   My first leave with NK was slower paced, with a sunny spring and a friend to hang out with, and, to be honest, with no blog and no writing assignments.  I just read mythology books and napped.

This last leave was about getting up at 4am with Baby B, who was a more frustrated and shy child.  It was about two kids, about daycare dropoffs and pickups, about a very long morning nap that kept us from big outings.  It was about my own writing and my own exploration of Daddyland.  It was perfect in its way, but yesterday was perfect in the old way, and I’m happy I get days like this with my son here and there.

It was actually too good.  Because I hated work today.   I’ve been broken out of a work rhythm in which I looked forward to the office a bit, got my fill of my kids and thought I had a balance.  But now I just want back.  I wrote a few days back about the hard edge of the Swedish system, where the kids all go to daycare at the same time, no breaking out of the box.

And I hate that his daycare teachers -who are wonderful – get to be with my son during this beautiful stage.  I see it in their eyes when I pick them up and ask how his day was.  They just beam.  I want to beam.

But Sweden giveth, Sweden taketh away, Sweden giveth again.  We’ve got more than four weeks off around Christmas.

Makes me want to stand on the table and shout, “HAPPY!”

grandparents picking toddlers up early from daycare in sweden

I work part-time, and I work through lunch, all so I can cut my kids’ day at preschool short. I would not say I’m killing myself to do it, as I really like the work-kid balance to my day, but, still, we are making sacrifices.

So, feeling a bit self-satisfied, I show up at my son’s daycare … and find that he is one of only three or four kids left at 3:30 in the afternoon.

I casually ask the teachers about it. And they are surprised too by the answer.

Grandparents. Apparently, waves of grandparents show up to pick up kids in this group. And this makes me sigh. Because now that my paternity leave is over, the welfare state is not completely covering up for our lack of family network anymore.

We don’t have grandparents or any other relatives close by. Sweden is a smaller community, with less mobility than the US, so it is more likely that grandparents live in the neighborhood, and I’m really happy they do, because it means a more vibrant kid community.

I was talking to someone about this in the US, and she said she had a sense it was changing there, becoming more Swedish, that grandparents there are more and more involved, as the pressures of modern life almost force them into a child care role.

Maybe it is changing here too, because I never saw anything like this with my older child, just two years ago. I could pick her up at 4 or even 4:30 and still walk into a huge crowd of little toddlers waiting for their parents.

So even in the warm embrace of the welfare state, we daydream of living around the corner from my sister and my parents, with a friendlier safety net, one without all these bureaucratic forms and with good company at a Sunday afternoon barbecue.

voting in the swedish elections, where everyone is to the left

I wrote a post for Currents Online this week pondering my options as a first time Swedish voter.  This is relevant to Daddyland when you realize that almost every single Swedish political party is to the left of the Democrats in the US.  Or to reverse it, almost every American politician would qualify as “far right” here in Sweden.

So there are no threats to Daddyland, to the welfare state, to the safety net.  There are big differences in how each party wants to balance the safety net versus opportunity, jobs, etc.   And if the Social Democrats return to power, they are likely to vastly increase the number of “daddy only” parental leave days, forcing more men to stay home longer, a pure case of social engineering that I both support and feel queasy about.  The current center-right government is more in favor of things like the “equality bonus” that couples get for splitting their leave.

But consider that.  The right wing government put in an equality bonus!

Here is a quote from my post:

In less than two weeks, I will vote in a Swedish election for the first time. I am not a citizen, so I am not eligible for the national election, but I do get to vote in the local and county-level contests.

The Swedish campaign season is nothing like an American one.  For one, there are way more posters – big, full color posters stapled everywhere. But also, you get so much actual information.  The parties print manifestos, they write op-eds, and there is a seemingly endless series of substantive TV appearances, all focused on real issues that affect real Swedes.

It makes one long for American flash and pop, for nasty attack ads.  Or not.

In fact my new voting rights have focused my mind on both Swedish politics and the vast gulf between the American and Swedish political worlds.

It can be tricky.  The parties have similar labels as American ones.  There are the four parties in the governing coalition on the “right” – the Moderate Party, the Center Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats.  And then you have three parties on the “left” – the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Left Party.

But do not be fooled.  The Social Democrats are not like the American Democratic Party.  And the Moderates are not like the Republicans.

On Sweden.se you can find short party descriptions.  Try guessing which party this describes:

‘The XXXX Party today describes its politics as “green liberalism” and also attracts urban voters. Core issues for the party are entrepreneurialism, jobs, care for the environment and the climate. The party is pro-immigration and stands for openness and diversity.’

Sounds like a left-wing Democrat to me.  Must be the former communists, right?  But, nope, it’s the description of the Center Party, which happens to be in the current center-right coalition.

Finish reading it here.

remaking fathers through state propaganda in sweden and the u.s.

Sweden offered paternity leave for the first time in 1974.  But men didn’t really take any.  Now they take a lot.  What changed?

Propaganda.  Lots and lots of state propaganda.

This is from a study by Roger Klinth in the journal Fathering in 2008:

Since the mid-1970s numerous campaigns and other forms of opinion molding have been launched to persuade men to use their right to parental leave. Through TV-spots, posters, brochures, antenatal and postnatal education classes, information meetings, etc., government authorities and service providers have tried to change attitudes about paternity leave. In the public eye, the representations of fatherhood displayed in the campaigns probably have had a greater impact than any policy declaration.

In the US, nobody gets good parental leave.  But the role of dad is still changing, getting more involved.  And what might help that process go even faster?   Or even, gasp, get people involved enough to fight for parental leave?

Propaganda.  Lots and lots of state propaganda.

Via Rebel Dad, here are a couple public service announcements from the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse.  See them all here.


It is all about a shift to what one researcher calls a “child-centered masculinity.”  I do notice that in a couple this means that dads are supposed to be more “girly,” which I don’t love.   Is that really being a more-involved dad?  I guess it can be that.  I certainly do “girly” things.  But my girl is also not always so girly, maybe partially because she has her dad around so much.

But, that aside, they are funny, and you gotta love Tom Selleck on the voiceovers.  Magnum P.I. always was a good dad …