How Sweden Compares To the US (Complete Guide)

Last Updated on Categorized as Culture

Despite an enormous difference in size, it can sometimes seem like the US and Sweden are quite similar in other aspects. But how similar can two countries with such vast differences in circumstances and locations be?

I have three Swedish-American sons who ask me about the differences and similarities between their two home countries all the time. Being from Sweden and having lived in the US for almost a decade, I’ve certainly noticed both differences and similarities that I share with them around the dinner table almost daily, so that they can learn more about and feel at home in both of their countries (especially the US, since we live in Sweden).

Being the geek that I am, I wanted to dig even deeper. So I decided to document both my actual life experiences and some cold hard data—from pop culture to macroeconomics—to explain even better how life in Sweden and the US compare, for anyone who is curious.

So if you’re curious yourself, let’s start by looking at what common ground the two countries have:

How Are Sweden and the United States Similar?

Both Sweden and the US are considered developed countries, with a high quality of life, a long life expectancy, an open economy, and a high level of technological infrastructure.

🤝 What Values Do Sweden & the US Share?

  • Equality & egalitarianism
  • Democracy
  • Liberty & Human Rights
  • Honesty
  • Privacy
  • Informality
  • Punctuality
  • Forward-thinking

If you agree or identify with most of these values you should have an easy time assimilating to Sweden, and Swedish life in general.

These are values that many so-called western democracies share, but are of course general observations that definitely have plenty of exceptions both regionally and locally. As such, they should not be seen as values that all Swedes and Americans share (because everyone certainly does not).

Still, they give a good idea of some of the ideals and goals we aspire to reach as a society.

🎬 How is Swedish and US Culture Similar?

  • Similar media consumption and pop culture
  • Both countries understand and speak English
  • We eat similar food (for the most part)

Sweden and the US share many elements of popular culture, such as music, movies, series, books, art, and technology. There are also plenty of overlap in sports, with soccer, track & field, golf, ice hockey, tennis, gymnastics, and swimming being the most common examples that are very popular in both countries.

🏥 How are Swedish and American Health Services Similar?

  • Both countries have a life expectancy over 80 years (82.6 in Sweden vs 80.43 in USA est. for 2021)
  • Both countries have a similar fertility rate (1.85 in Sweden vs 1.84 in USA est. for 2021)
  • Both countries enjoy a high quality of living and has a similarly high Human Development Index

Both Swedes and Americans can generally expect to live a long and happy life in a highly developed society, and both countries have a high enough fertility rate to keep their populations in balance (and not experience an imbalanced population such as Japan, where there is a larger population of old compared to young people).

🗳️ In Wich Ways are Swedish and US politics Similar?

  • Both countries are split up into regions with unique cultures
  • Both countries have legal framework based on a constitution
  • Both countries have a supreme court as the top judicial institution
  • Same voting age (18 years)
  • Same residency requirement for naturalization (5 years)

Swedish and US law are both built on a constitution, and both legal systems are headed by a supreme court trusted with the final say in legal disputes or policy-making brought before them.

You may cast your first vote when you turn 18 in both Sweden and the US, and you may become a citizen after having been a resident for 5 years in the country

📈 How are the Economies of Sweden and the US Similar?

  • Both countries have a high cost of living and GDP per capita ($3,181 and $55,245
  • in Sweden vs. $3,259 and $49,965 in USa)
  • Both countries have a booming manufacturing industry
  • Both countries develop world-class military tech

Both Swedes and Americans enjoy a stable and high gross domestic product per capita, meaning a high level of prosperity and sustained growth.

The two countries also have built up an advanced and successful manufacturing industry, that is also specifically known for developing and producing high technology military technology such as weapons systems, tanks, fighter planes, and warships.

💻 How are Sweden and the US Similar Technologically Speaking?

  • Both countries have a very high amount of PCs per thousand people
  • Both have a high amount of mobile phones per 100 people (127.57 in Sweden vs 134.8 in USA in 2019)
  • Both have a high amount of broadband subscriptions per 100 people
  • Both consume a high amount of electricity per capita

Swedes and Americans have among the most technologically advanced populations in the world, ranked third and fourth in the number of computers per thousand people, with about one in three also having a fixed broadband connection. Furthermore, every person owns more than one mobile phone in both countries.

👫 How are the Demographics of Sweden and the US Similar?

  • Both have well-educated populations (11.4
  • years of schooling on average in Sweden vs. 12 in USA)
  • Both countries have high proportion of young adults with a 4-year degree or higher (49% in Sweden vs. 47% in USA)
  • Both countries are culturally diverse
  • Both countries have indigenous populations protected by law

Swedes and Americans both generally go to primary school for around 12 years, and both see nearly half of their populations earning at least a 4-year university degree. The modern populations of both countries are quite diverse, and also include indigenous populations that are protected by law.

🌎 How are Swedish and US Geography Similar?

  • Both countries are located in the northern hemisphere
  • Both countries have a mostly temperate climate
  • Around the same average amount of rainfall per year

How are Sweden and the United States Different?

The US is the world’s primary superpower, dominating Sweden in land area, economy, military, population, and fossil fuel consumption. If we compare daily life, Sweden offers better and more technological infrastructure, less crime, less religious influence, better public healthcare, and more immigration lately.

Swedish culture is generally more team-oriented, environmental, leisurely, tax-friendly, and passive-aggressive than American, which is more individualistic, controlling, proud, optimistic, materialistic, competitive, and direct in nature.

Politically, Sweden is a parliamentary representative democracy lead by a government headed by the Prime Minister, while the US is a democratic federal republic where the President is head of the government and Congress and federal courts share certain other government powers.

In Sweden the ruling party is decided by popular vote for majority rule of parliament, where mandates are distributed proportionally. A majority can be made up of any party that reaches over the 4% limit (currently 8). In the US, the electoral college elects president and vice president from one of two parties,

Traditionally the Electoral College follows the popular vote of each state, and every sixth year each state also have separate senate elections, electing two senators per state to the US senate (the upper legislative body of the US).

Furthermore representatives to the lower legislative body (the US House of Representatives) are elected on even years, apportioned to each state by population.

⚖️ How are Swedish and American Values Different

🇺🇸 US values🇸🇪 Swedish values
Ambition and recognitionTake pride in accomplishmentsLaw of Jante1, don’t stand out or think you’re special
Individual vs collectiveIndividualism, self-helpSolidarity, focus on the collective
Agility in societal changeChange, mobility, optimismTraditions, historical pride
Nature vs controlPersonal control of environmentEnvironmentalism
Work cultureWork is life, workplace loyaltyWork-life balance
Financial cultureCompetition and free enterpriseTax unhealthy and dangerous products
Conflict resolutionDirectness, opennessPassive aggressive-ness
Consumer cultureMaterialismPeople-oriented
1The Law of Jante, or Jantelagen, is a social attitude that is very commonly engrained in Swedes and other Scandinavians that essentially means to not stand out or think you are anything special, or stronger than we, the collective.

📺 What are Some Differences in Technology Between Sweden and the US?

  • Sweden has a slightly higher amount of broadband subscriptions per 100 people (40.61 vs 36.41 in 2020)
  • Sweden has more mobile phones per capita (36% more than the US)
  • Sweden has more internet users per thousand people (17% more than the US)
  • The US has 47% more TVs per capita

There are slightly

🌎 What are the Main Geographical Differences Between Sweden and the US?

  • The US is 22 times larger than Sweden
  • The US has 65 times the arable land (i.e. farmland) of Sweden

👫 In What Ways are Swedish and US Demographics Different?

  • The US has 35 times the population of Sweden
  • New York is more than 11 times larger than Stockholm
  • Sweden has a higher urban population compared to the total population (88.2% vs 82.9%)

📈 How is the Swedish and US Economy Different?

  • The US has a GDP 30 times larger than Sweden’s
  • The US spends 3.73% of GDP in 2020 on the military (vs 1.1% in Sweden)
  • The US has a larger services sector output (80% of GDP in USA vs 65.4% in Sweden, 2017)
  • Sweden has twice the amount of yearly visiting tourists per capita (so more popular in relation to population size)
  • Sweden has a larger industrial sector output (33% vs 19.1% of GDP in 2017)
  • The US consumes 75% more oil per capita than Sweden
  • The US has 10 times higher budget deficit compared to GDP than Sweden

🗳️ How Are Swedish and US Politics Different?

  • Taxes make up 50.6% of GDP in Sweden compared to 17% in US
  • Swedish government spends 24% more on education than the US
  • Sweden receives more migrants per capita (4.87 vs 3.03 in 2020)
  • You gain American citizenship by simply being born in the US, in Sweden you need at least one Swedish parent to gain citizenship (even if you’re born in the country)

🏥 How Does Swedish Society Differ From the US?

  • The US is a good place to live when you’re rich, Sweden is a good place to live when you’re poor
  • Sweden has 53% more health physicians per thousand people than the US (3.98 vs 2.61 in 2016)
  • Sweden has a higher quality of health care than the US (76%)
  • Sweden has a higher life expectancy at birth than the US
  • Sweden has less than half the infant mortality rate of the US (2.45 vs 5.22 est. in 2021)
  • Sweden has a quarter of the US maternal mortality rate
  • Homeschooling is illegal in Sweden
  • US has a higher murder rate than Sweden
  • US has a 28% higher crime rate than Sweden
  • US has 3 times higher gun crime rate than Sweden
  • US has 5 times higher homicide rate than Sweden
  • Sweden has twice the rape rate of the US

🌳 What Differences in Environmental Impact are there Between Sweden and the US?

  • The US has 59% more air pollution than Sweden per capita
  • The US releases four times more CO2 per capita than Sweden
  • Americans have a 62% larger ecological footprint than Swedes
  • Sweden has 12% higher air quality on average than the US

🇸🇪 How is Sweden Better Than the US?

  • Sweden offers a higher quality of life
  • Sweden allows roaming and camping basically anywhere due to Allemansrätten The “all man’s right” means that Swedes are allowed to hike and stay overnight in nature, even if its private property, assuming the property owner is not disturbed.
  • It’s safer to give birth in Sweden Sweden has half the infant mortality rate and a quarter of the maternal mortality rate
  • Sweden has cleaner air and drinking water
  • Sweden offers 480 days of paid parental leave, the US offers none
  • Sweden has a much lower environmental impact and is much less reliant on fossile fuels
  • Sweden is a more desirable place to visit Sweden has more tourist visitors relative to its population size
  • Sweden is a better place to live for the working class
  • Sweden has better transportation infrastructure
  • Sweden invests more in public education
  • Sweden has a more efficient and modern tax revenue and banking system
  • Swedes commit considerably less crime in general
  • Swedes live longer than Americans
  • Sweden recycles more than the US per capita
  • Swedes have access to more healthcare workers Sweden has 53% more healthcare workers per capita compared to the US

These observations are not just subjective opinions or personal anecdotes, but are based on actual data and circumstances which are true for the majority of citizens. That said, there are likely regional and socio-economic outliers on both ends that go against these statistics.

🇺🇸 How is the US Better Than Sweden?

Having lived in both countries and scoured through relevant data points these are some ways the US

  • The US is a stronger global power financially, militarily, culturally and politically
  • There are significantly more Americans than Swedes
  • The US offers more job opportunities with a much higher variety of jobs than Sweden
  • Americans pay less taxes than Swedes
  • The US is much, much bigger than Sweden and offers a more diverse climate and landscape
  • Big American cities are significantly larger than big Swedish cities
  • There is a much larger selection and variety of consumer products and services in the US compared to Sweden
  • Ambition and success is celebrated in the US, while it can be tricky to navigate in Sweden
  • Higher levels of competition in business leads to generally higher salaries and levels of service

These observations are not just subjective opinions or personal anecdotes, but are based on actual data and circumstances which are true for the majority of citizens. That said, there are likely regional and socio-economic outliers on both ends that go against these statistics.

How Is Quality of Life in Sweden Compared to the US?

Sweden offers a slightly better overall quality of life than the US, even more so for the working class and below. Meanwhile, the US can offer a more luxurious lifestyle if you are in the higher-income brackets.

Here’s how the OECD ranks Swedish and US quality of life:

Quality of Life Topic🇸🇪 Sweden🇺🇸 United States
Housing (housing conditions & spending)6.98.5
Income (household income & financial wealth)4.69.0
Jobs (earnings, job security, unemployment)8.18.4
Community (quality of social support network)6.76.3
Education (education quality and what you get out of it)7.77.0
Environment (quality of environment)9.16.8
Civic engagement (citizens’ involvement in democracy)6.87.0
Health (citizens’ health)8.58.9
Life Satisfaction (citizen happiness)8.97.4
Safety (crime rates and feeling safe)8.57.5
Work-life balance (balance of work and play in life)8.46.0
Total Quality of Life Score7.657.53
Source: OECD

Which US States are Most Similar to Sweden?

The US states of Washington & Minnesota are likely the most similar to Sweden when it comes to culture and values, as they both have a high number of Scandinavian ancestors, similarly high levels of education, low levels of poverty, and are mostly non-religious.

Source: U.S Census Bureau / Kilpinen, Jon T., 2014. Scandinavian Ancestry, 2012
  • Both states have comparably high Scandinavian ancestry
  • Both are ranked as very healthy states (low air pollution, smoke rate, obesity rate, and higher access to healthcare)
  • In both states around 40 percent of the population has earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 41.14% of Swedes (as of 2020).
  • In both states the majority of the population is secular (45% religious in WA, 49% in MN).
  • Both states voted Democrat for president, but are split in half between Dem’s and Republicans in representatives.
  • Both states have abolished the death penalty
  • Both states have a comparably high median monthly income ($4.5k & $4.3k).
  • Both states have below 1% of the population at or below federal minimum wage

What Countries is Sweden Similar to?

On top of Sweden’s fellow Nordic neighbors Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, the country shares the most culture and values with the rest of Germanic/Protestant Europe: UK, Germany, Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Here are the English speaking countries that are most similar to Sweden culturally:

Canada

  • Similar values and ethics based on Germanic and Protestant culture
  • Similar climate and sharing the same latitude in the northern hemisphere
  • Germanic language

New Zealand

  • Similar values and ethics based on Germanic and Protestant culture
  • Similar climate as Sweden on the South Island
  • Germanic language

Australia

  • Similar values and ethics based on Germanic and Protestant culture
  • Southern Australia similar to southern Sweden in climate
  • Germanic language

United Kingdom

  • Similar values and ethics based on Germanic and Protestant culture
  • Shared ancestry and history
  • Germanic language
Source: World Values Survey, 2020

Sources:

https://data.worldbank.org/

https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/

https://sweden.se/life/people/sami-in-sweden

https://www.statista.com/statistics/532459/sweden-population-2015-by-level-of-education/

https://www.usa.gov/election

https://www.businessinsider.com/50-maps-that-explain-how-america-lives-spends-and-believes-2019-6

https://www.ipsos.com/sites/default/files/2017-05/DN_Ipsos_Svenska_Varderingar%2020160830.pdf

https://www.bu.edu/isso/files/pdf/AmericanValues.pdf

https://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/sweden/

https://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/countries/united-states/

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By Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.

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