Friday, October 23, 2015


Not quite so wonderful
Sweden has an excellent reputation abroad as a very liberal country but is not so well known for its culture of ageism (the stereotyping of, and discrimination against individuals or groups on the basis of their age).

In Sweden you cannot escape your age
In Sweden your age is pretty much stamped on your forehead all through your life. The "Swedish Social Security number" ( personnummer) is constructed of your birthday and four more digits. Whatever you do in Sweden, like applying for a job, your age is immediately apparent in your "personnummer". In America it is not allowed to ask a person's age during a job interview. in Sweden it is always done. There it is inescapable. 

In the telephone directory, there it is, the telephone number and the birthdate, whether you requested it or not.  Newspapers and TV always refer to people as "the 42 year old victim" the age is always there. Age defines one in Sweden. 

Not many old people in government
In the Swedish parliament only 8 of the 349 members are over 65. Compare that to America where many in Congress are over 80. Hillary Clinton would never have a chance as a politician in Sweden at 68. In the Social Democratic party manifesto, they want 25 % of the candidates to be under 35, but there is no such wishful percentage for any other age group. In Sweden we worship the young, but if you are young in Sweden, best hurry up, after 35 you are no longer considered "young and promising". 

The optimal (young )age 21-35
As I read a few articles and essays on age discrimination in Sweden, it appears that many of the writers have concluded that the optimal age for Swedish workers is between 21 and 35 (Maria Scherer). After that it is downhill. By 40-50 it seems definitely over for Swedes, writes a blogger with experience from both America and Sweden. 

Out you go - at 67
Unlike the US, where people often work until they are 80 or more, Sweden, being heavily unionised, has strict rules about retirement age. People here usually retire at 65 but one can work until 67 (by law) but after that’s it pretty much the end for most. There is an attitude that old people should leave space for the young to enter the job market. With lowered pensions, people now need to work past 67. But it is not easy.

Disgruntled baby boomers
Everyone is not happy with this, including the handsome and vital TV anchorman Claes Elfsberg who has expressed the opinion that people should be allowed to work past 67. He was let go from his regular steady employment at 67 (silly he thinks) but he negotiated that he could continue work as freelancer with his own production company.
Stefan Sauk, a Swedish actor thinks that Swedes are far too much fixated on people’s age, to the point that he (during an interview with i NEWS 55 a new website for the elderly run by retired journalists) said “Sweden is one of the world’s most age-facistic countries.”  There is a lot to what he said. Politicians especially have a tendency to view old people as a costly burden to society.

The old need not apply
This paralyzing age prejudice prevents employers in many cases from hiring anyone over 50. A 50 year old person is actually less likely to be absent from work than a younger person with children. With the generous paternity leave rules, a young employee can be absent for over a year with each child when a substitute would need to be hired. For many years, after the child is born, the parent can be absent whenever the child is ill, or has to go to the doctor, and so on. The work day might be interrupted with a call from the child care center telling the parent to fetch the ill child. All this is allowed by law and the parents get generous pay from the government for all these absences. Other employees must pitch in, of course. These are known facts, yet many employers still shun well qualified people because they are above 50. The age prejudice is so deep that the Swedish nation needs serious re-programming.

Reduced pensions
The Swedish age prejudice at the workplace is unfortunate, but it is even more unfortunate when politicians, ingrained with this prejudice, start trimming the budget and identify elderly Swedes as the perfect target group to save money. It started with the pensions. 
The pension system in Sweden was reformed several years ago. It was jointly decided and passed in parliament by all the political parties but the people never really understood. They were never told what the outcome would be, namely lowered pensions. Unlike the American Social Security system that has funds in government bonds, Sweden depends on revenue from the current year’s taxes. Depending on the economy, pensions can go up or down every year. So far they have gone down only, even during “good economy” years. American pensioners see their Social Security entitlements go up almost every year according to the cost-of-living index. Swedes are not nearly so lucky.


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