The family supplement, which gives extra financial aid for each additional child, was implemented in Sweden in 1982 at a time of falling birth rates. It now contributes to lock-in effects for immigrant women. Abolishing this supplement and limiting the child allowance to the first two children would help reduce social exclusion and public spending, at the same time benefitting the environment, as argued in this Op-Ed translated from the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet.
By Leif Andersson, Malte Andersson, Johanna Deinum, and Frank Götmark
The new Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson wants to “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to reducing Sweden’s increasing social exclusion, a necessary effort if Sweden is to survive as a welfare state in the long run.
Proposals with this purpose in recent years have included more community youth recreation centres, more money for schools in socioeconomically vulnerable areas, increased police presence, and so on. These proposals all increase public spending, and Magdalena Andersson, as former Minister of Finance, declared that the rich in Sweden can contribute more. But the opportunities to raise taxes are limited since the tax burden in the country is already high.
Our proposal, which in the long run is expected to reduce social exclusion and public expenditure as well as to benefit the environment, is to abolish subsidies for larger families and provide a maximum of two child allowances per family, so as not to encourage having a large number of children.
A large proportion (approximately 25%) of Sweden’s current population has in recent decades immigrated to Sweden, or are children of immigrants. Many come from countries with unsustainable, explosive population growth, including Afghanistan, Somalia, and Syria, where the populations have doubled approximately every 25 years.
If these families retain a tradition of large cohorts of children, the risk of social exclusion increases, partly because women’s opportunity to enter gainful employment decreases. Furthermore, it is difficult for society to provide social services and good schools in areas with large groups of children and many inhabitants who do not speak Swedish. There is also a strong connection between large numbers of children per family and areas with gang criminality, something that Lasse Wierup addressed in his book “Gangsterparadiset.”
Upon their first contact with Swedish society, with tax-free child allowances and progressively larger family supplements (see Appendix below), some migrants conclude that in Sweden it is beneficial to have as many children as possible. The extra supplement to families with two or more children was introduced in 1982 in a completely different context, falling birth rates, but now leads to lock-in effects for a large number of immigrant women.
A common view has been that rapid population growth decreases due to increased prosperity, but the connection is probably the opposite: reduced family size leading to increased prosperity through a so-called “demographic dividend.” The increase in wealth that one generation creates can then be passed on to the next generation.
Sweden has made this journey, from a poor country with large family sizes in the early 20th century, to today’s welfare country with small cohorts of children and, until recently, very good schooling. Let it not become a lost paradise with widening socioeconomic gaps and all the problems that social exclusion causes. We therefore propose a community contract, where each family with children receives up to two child allowances, while we (the community) “leave no stone unturned” to offer safe upbringing and good, free school education.
Each family can decide for itself whether it wants to have more than two children but without additional monetary contributions from society. With two children per family on average, we can obtain a relatively stable population size, which benefits welfare.
Zero population growth, or even better population reduction, is also required to counteract the loss of habitats for animals and plants, and to halt global warming. The relatively rapid population growth in Sweden in recent decades, compared to many other EU countries, drives intensive construction of buildings and infrastructure around the country, which eats up not only green areas in and near cities, but also agricultural land.
There is no reason to reward population growth, neither in Sweden nor elsewhere in the world.
Leif Andersson, professor of biology, Uppsala
Malte Andersson, professor emeritus of ecology, Gothenburg
Johanna Deinum, assistant professor in biophysical chemistry, Gothenburg
Frank Götmark, professor of ecology, Gothenburg
Appendix. The Swedish system of child allowance and extra supplements for large families (2021)
The child allowance is 1250 SEK (kronor) per month for the first child, and for every additional child. The extra supplement per month is 150 SEK for child number two, and the size of this extra supplement increases the more children there are in the family (see Table 1 below, and Table 2 with conversion to US dollars). The allowances and supplements are tax free.
This Op-Ed does not deal with the Swedish system of subsidized parental leave for each child. It comprises large additional support to families, thus also increasing with family size.
Table 1. Swedish child allowances in Swedish Kronor (SEK)
Table 2. Swedish child allowances in US dollars (as of January 2, 2022)