Disturbing the Nest assesses the future of the family as an
institution through an historical and comparative analysis of the
nature, causes, and social implications of family change in
advanced western societies such as the United States, New Zealand,
and Switzerland by focusing on the one society in which family
decline is found to be the greatest, Sweden.
The founding of the modern Swedish welfare state was based in
large part on the belief that it was necessary for the state to
intervene in society in order to improve the situation of the
family. Of great concern was the low birthrate, which was seen as a
threat to the very survival of Swedes as a national population
group. The Social Democrats pioneered welfare measures that aimed
to strengthen the family, to alleviate its worst trials and
tribulations, and to make possible harmonious living. With the
Social Democrats remaining in power continuously until 1976, a
period of almost forty-five years, Sweden went on to implement
governmental "family policies" that are among the most
comprehensive (and expensive) in the world.
In view of this major policy goal of family improvement, the
actual situation of the Swedish family today presents a genuine
irony; some have claimed that Swedish welfare state policies have
had consequences that are the opposite of those originally
intended. Comparing contemporary Swedish family patterns with those
of other advanced nations, one finds a very high family dissolution
rate, probably the highest in the Western world, and a high
percentage of single-parent, female headed families. Even marriage
seems to have fallen increasingly out of favor, with Sweden having
the lowest marriage rate and latest age of first marriage, and the
highest rate of children born out-of-wedlock. The early pronatalist
aspirations of the Swedish government have been spectacularly
unsuccessful, as Sweden continues to have one of the world's lowest
birthrates and smallest average family sizes.
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