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Culture Of Individualism, Strong Welfare State: Swedes Prefer Living Alone, Average Age To Leave Home Around 19

There is a Swedish proverb says “ensam är stark” – “alone is strong” – and the Swedes still believe. That’s the reason why the most common age to leave home in Sweden is between 18 and 19, compared to the EU average of 26.

It may sound quite weird and unimaginable to us in Pakistan where the joint family system still widely practiced.

Discussing this trend in Sweden, BBC in a report says a significant proportion of these young Swedes aren’t moving into cramped house shares or student dorms. They are living alone.

In contrast, more young people in the US are living with their parents than at any time since 1940. And a 2019 study found that the proportion of 23-year-olds living with their parents in the UK had risen from 37 per cent in 1998 to 49 per cent a decade later.

Meanwhile, more than half of Swedish households are single-person, the highest proportion in the EU, which includes around one in five 18- to 25-year-olds. But researchers estimate that the real number could be higher, since many remain registered at their parents’ address while they stay in sublet rentals.

“It is special in Sweden – and the Nordics – that there is much less variation in leaving age than other countries,” explains Gunnar Andersson, professor of demography at Stockholm University.

“In other parts of Europe it’s not considered problematic to depend on your family and in southern Europe it should even be considered a goal – if you don’t, it would be like rejecting your family,” he says. “In Sweden…it’s the goal to create an independent individual…there’s seen to be something wrong if the child stays at home,” BBC quoted him as saying.

Andersson explains that Sweden’s “culture of individualism” dates back centuries, with teenagers in rural communities typically leaving home to go and work on another farm. In more recent years the norm of young people living alone has, he says, remained realistic thanks to Sweden’s strong welfare state which, in theory, should enable them to have access to affordable housing, healthcare and education without relying on relatives or partners for help.

But while many young Swedes enjoy the kind of social and financial freedom that might sound like fantasy to many global peers, there are concerns that fleeing the nest so soon can have its downsides.

Karin Schulz, general secretary of the Swedish mental health charity Mind, argues that while “it’s great for young people to be able to be independent,” Sweden’s focus on moving out after high school can have a damaging impact on those who are not yet mentally equipped to live alone.

“For some they’re not really ready for it…You have a lot of things to think about, a lot of decisions to make and it is a struggle for many,” she explains.

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Naya Daur