16 December 2012

Life in Denmark

Extensive excerpts from an interesting article at Culture Change:
Despite the difficulties associated with quantifying happiness, each year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) unveils its report on life satisfaction in the developed world... Based on this experience, its 11 topics reflect what the OECD has identified as essential to well-being in terms of material living conditions (housing, income, jobs) and quality of life (community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety and work-life balance).

Once again, the United States failed to make the top 10 list of happiest nations in the world, while all the Scandinavian nations did... Denmark tops the OECD ranking with the most satisfied citizens... Yet, in addition to the OECD, organizations such as the World Map of Happiness and the World Database of Happiness have consistently put Denmark at the top of their list of the world’s happiest countries.

When asked why they are happy, Danes usually give two reasons. First, they point out that most of their society is not created for the upper class. Just the opposite, nearly all things are catered to the middle class. Hence, there is a sense of contentment, which is key. There is little of the mentality of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ or a 1% vs 99% debate...

Second, they mention the great services that the state provides. This comes at a price—extremely high taxes. But it turns out high taxes have another benefit. People tend to decide on an occupation based on what they like and not based on earning potential. Incomes are somewhat comparable across the country so that a garbage collector lives in the same kind of neighborhood as a doctor. As a general rule, prestige is not so important: the garbage collector gets the same kind of respect as the doctor for a job well done. This creates happiness as well.

Denmark has a high employment rate (73%), and a low percentage of employees working long hours (less than 2%). Not surprisingly, having enough leisure time affects a person’s mental health and strongly impacts happiness. The citizens of Denmark have the most leisure time per day of any country in the study, at 16.06 hours (including sleep) —and this is encouraged by government policies...

Danish parents feel their children are safe within their families and in society as a whole (not true for American parents); baby prams are left unattended; bicycles are left unlocked; trust in other people and government is high.

Denmark has national health insurance which provides for all. Family planning, counseling, and pre- and post-pregnancy services are given free. The Danes accept sexuality as a normal part of life, and feel that abortion should be allowed free of charge. They decided that prevention of adolescent pregnancy should have high priority, therefore sex education and responsible parenting classes are part of their school curriculum, starting at an early age. Denmark's conception rates are less than 1/2 of those in the US. Not surprisingly, there are very few unwanted pregnancies, and few babies to be adopted.
More at the link. 


  1. I don't know how they can be so happy without guns.

    Okay, I'll stop now.


  2. I assume 73% is the entire population? 27% unemployment seems quite high to me. Either the wording or the lack of detail makes the statistic a little odd.

    1. No way they would have 27% unemployment. Wikipedia gave me this:

      "As of June 2010 the unemployment rate is at 7.4%"

      I would presume the other 20% are retired.

    2. 73% is the percentage of the entire population that works. That is high. Unemployment is calculated as a percentage of those who *want* to work. So, that excludes those who can not or do not want to work: children, retired people, prisoners, sick people, handicapped etc.

      http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm reports the US employment at 58.7%.

  3. Second, they mention the great services that the state provides. This comes at a price—extremely high taxes.

    High taxation buys happiness. Oh, I am gonna use this at Christmas near my Tea Party in-laws ;-D

    1. True. The tax level is very high, I pay somewhere around 50% income tax and added to that there are a lot of taxes put on goods. A gallon of gas is just below 8 usd.
      But it spores the growth of environmental friendly transportation :)

  4. I would be so happy if America could be much more like Denmark. Truly, so much suffering would be spared and why is that a bad thing? I once worked with a woman from Denmark and she said that the advantage of that country was no one had to fear not having a safety net. The downside was the heavy taxes. So, trade-offs come with the territory. I just wish we'd give it a try, because unmoderated capitalism kills too, just more insidiously than other regimes. --A.

  5. To play devil's advocate - they might be happy but what have the danes contributed to the world since lego?

  6. http://metalbandcamp.com/ - Run by a dedicated Dane, this is one of the best underground extreme metal music blogs for discovering new bands.

  7. Hi guys and gals

    A Dane here. The article does paint a bit too nice a picture, but in general it's mostly true. The fun thing is that the high tax percentage is a thing that the Danes themselves are not that fond of, and its debated often in the political system.

    Any more questions welcome.

    1. Martin, if the lifestyle is pleasant and the people happy, isn't there a risk that the country will be flooded with freeloaders and parasites? Is there a length-of-residency requirement or a work requirement before people can take advantage of the social welfare benefits?

  8. Sure, it's a topic in almost every election.

    Is far as I know immigration into Denmark is tightly regulated, and asylum is as well (something that tend to crop up in international media from time to time). If you get asylum in Denmark then for a period of time you do not have complete access to the benefits which gives you cash to spend, but rather a degraded version. The benefits where it's a service that the government provide are as far as I know open. These include health care, education, and job assignment. But do note that unemployment in Denmark is up as well as in the rest of the developed countries so there's not that many jobs to be had.

    Apart from that there are some pretty strict rules if you marry a foreigner and would like to stay in Denmark, then the government evaluates where the couples affiliation is greatest and if its not in Denmark then the foreigner is not given Danish citizenship.

  9. I am a Dane too, and boy has this image of Denmark been sugarcoated!

    We do have free health care (for the time being). But right now, the welfare state is being demolished. Benefits for the sick and unemployed are being cut if not removed entirely. The money that are being taken from the ill and unemployed are being used for tax cuts for the rich!

    Banks have been bailed out and the people sold out - just like in the US. In fact, for some strange reason we can't wait to become just like big brother, the US of A. We invest in drones, and we are happy to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Muslims are being accused of every evil on the planet, and immigration laws are very strict. Some refugees are even denied asylum and sent back to countries where they risk torture or death.

    The fact that the trust in the government is high is true, though - we can't wait to increase the funding for and decrease the control of the police.

    About 10% of the population is currently on antidepressants. But if you come and ask us, we will tell you, that we are sooo happy ...


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