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Sweden Has One Of The Best Social Welfare Systems. Why Are So Many People Lonely?

Hygge dreams and happy extended families are increasingly fading away.

Image of people walking in the street.

Citizens in Sparbanken Arena, Lund, Sweden.

Alan Posener


Even if Sweden has one of the world's best social systems, more and more people say they are becoming lonely. Instead of idyllic extended families, more individualistic ways of living are becoming more common. This is having serious consequences, especially for those over 60.

If you believe in individualism, you should be in favor of a strong state. That sounds paradoxical, and it is. But while ideologies strive to erase contradictions, the real world is often contradictory.

Sweden, which is still the country with the world's most comprehensive welfare system, is also the country with the second-highest proportion of single-person households, just after Finland. Almost half of Swedes live alone.

In Germany, the term "Bullerbü" describes an idealized picture of Swedish countryside life — an idea that is popular precisely because it hardly exists anymore in Europe, and certainly not in Sweden. That's how it is with idylls. The German magazine "Landlust" is one of the country's most popular periodicals, even though only 15% of Germans live in villages — and they certainly don't read the magazine.

Image of \u200bseniors dancing in a retirement home.

Seniors dancing in a retirement home in Stockholm, Sweden.

Alexander Farnsworth/DPA via Zuma

Sharing and capitalism

In Sweden, the ubiquity of state child care allows parents to pursue their careers, even if they're raising a child alone.

But one consequence of this "statist individualism," as Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh calls it, is loneliness. Individualism is dandy if you're young, pretty, talented and ambitious. For the rest of us, it can be problematic. In Sweden, the over-60s in particular, 900,000 of whom live alone, often feel lonely.

Elsewhere, they are needed: taking grandchildren to daycare or school, picking them up and often caring for them in the afternoons. As birth rates fall around the world and people live longer, the ratio of grandparents to grandchildren is rising: in China, where the Communist Party followed a strict one-child policy until a few years ago, the ratio is 4:1 in cities.

In contrast, capitalism demands mobility and flexibility — that is, individualism.

The Economist magazine proclaimed this "the age of grandparents." Studies show that the elderly do better when they feel needed and can care for grandchildren. They also show that children do better when they see their grandparents regularly.

In contrast, capitalism demands mobility and flexibility — that is, individualism. An ideal employee is a single person who can be assigned to Singapore tomorrow. The ideal consumer lives alone and needs her own refrigerator, stove, car and furniture.

Sharing is anti-economic. The total freedom of the individual is in reality their total availability, and only the comprehensive welfare state makes this freedom and availability possible.

There's nothing wrong with day-care centers and homes for the elderly, or with self-realization. But a little Bullerbü is allowed: extended family and welfare state. Grandma and daycare. Hygge, because you want it, not because you have to. Those who want this freedom also need the state.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Russian Orthodox Church Has A Kremlin Spy Network — And Now It's Spreading Abroad

The Russian Orthodox Church has long supported Russia’s ongoing war effort in Ukraine. Now, clergy members in other countries are suspected of collaborating with and recruiting for Russian security forces.

Photo of Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Russian soldiers during mass at an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Wiktoria Bielaszyn

WARSAW — Several countries have accused members of the Russian Orthodox clergy of collaborating with Russian security services, pushing Kremlin policy inside the church and even recruiting spies from within.

On Sept. 21, Bulgaria deported Russian Archimandrite Vassian, guardian of the Orthodox parish in Sofia, along with two Belarusian priests. In a press release, the Bulgarian national security agency says that clergy were deported because they posed a threat to national security. "The measures were taken due to their actions against the security and interests of the Republic of Bulgaria," Bulgarian authorities wrote in a statement, according to Radio Svoboda.

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These reports were also confirmed by Russia's ambassador to Bulgaria, Eleonora Mitrofanova, who told Russian state news agency TASS that the priests must leave Bulgaria within 24 hours. “After being declared persona non grata, Wassian and the other two clerics were taken home under police supervision to pack up their belongings. Then they will be taken to the border with Serbia" she said.

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