If you relish being single, you’ll find strength in numbers in Sweden.
Our Nordic neighbour has more solo dwellers than anywhere else in the world.
Around 47% of households have just one occupant – typically a child-free, single adult.
Of course, living alone doesn’t always mean being single. Some solo dwellers may be in long-term relationships. Many more will be dating.
But such a definitive figure (compared to 34% in the UK and 27% in the States) shouts volumes about the normalisation of being single in Sweden.
This is a country where singledom is so common, a particular genre of apartment – think white walls, compact space and Ikea-led minimalism – has become a byword for solo living.
Valuing the individual
Freedom of the individual is a core value of all Scandinavian countries, driving right to the heart of its collective national identity.
“In Sweden, we are more individualistic and have more rational, secular values than in any other country on earth,” explains Patrik Lindenfors, a professor of cultural evolution studies at Stockholm University.
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This ethos means it’s easier for people to live as they choose without judgement. But it also intrinsically changes the nature of romantic relationships.
The “Swedish theory of love” decrees that “authentic human relationships are possible only between autonomous and equal individuals”, says Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh.
“This is, of course, shocking news to many non-Swedes, who believe that interdependency is the very stuff of love,” he notes.
Without reliance playing into the equation, the decision to settle down in Scandinavian countries becomes one where individual choice and freedom hangs in the balance.
Or as Berthe Linddal Hansen, a researcher at the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies, puts it: “You have your destiny in your own hands and can do anything you want.
“But if you have a family you have to give up the ski holiday together with the guys. Or you have to give up the chance for continuing your education, or running in the marathon, because you have to spend time with the family.”
A state that picks up the pieces
Another reason why being single is so widespread in Sweden is that the state uses a high-tax welfare system to fuel its egalitarian vision: people can afford to live independently.
The simple upshot here is that more people choose to live single simply because they *can*. Not only is individual freedom an ideological value, it’s one that is rooted in practical reality.
It’s no coincidence that Sweden has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. The average age for a first marriage is also relatively high; 33 years for women and 35.7 for men (compared to 27 for women and 29 for men in the States).
“In Sweden, a high-trust society, the state is viewed more as friend than foe,” says Trägårdh.
“Indeed, it is welcomed as a liberator from traditional, unequal forms of community… our institutions guarantee the possibility for relationships to be voluntary, for individuals to make the decision to leave a relationship if they so wish.”
When the state is your friend – and a giving and fair-minded pal, at that – you have less call for a partner.
And if things don’t work out in a relationship, there’s a ready-made support network in place.
Re-writing the rules
Sweden is at the forefront of this global movement towards a new kind of individual identity; one that is no longer rooted in whether or not you’re married, or how many kids you have.
Stripped of the financial or emotional reliance that a marriage so often – even now – represents, Swedes are choosing to live as they like.
And nearly 50% of the time, that means flying solo.
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In typical Swedish fashion, there are no particular rules on how this is done.
Living single doesn’t necessarily mean living alone, for example.
Communal living is fast becoming a thing in Sweden, as single people live alone together in independent flats, with shared gardens and dining areas.
In a free-wheeling world like this, even the mere concept of dating can feel a little too loaded.
“People don’t like to say they’re ‘dating’ in Sweden,” one Swedish resident observes. “There’s a huge amount of pressure that is tied to the word.”
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Instead, couples typically head out for “fika” coffee and cake (the bill is split, naturally) and if they like each other, great. If not, no big deal.
In a place where the search for a soul-mate is so easily weighed against personal ambition, the latter increasingly wins.
Want to know more about Sweden?
Join us in the depths of winter-time Sweden as we hike beneath the Northern Lights, rally drive around an ice course and cruise across the snow on a fleet of snowmobiles.
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