The Swedish daycare system (förskola)

As the summer winds to an end, I thought I’d write a bit about how life in Sweden is with a toddler. Our daughter is now a bit over two and a half and has been going to the local förskola (daycare) since she turned one and a half. Let me just start by saying that the Swedish system works and is so worth it.

Modern Swedish society is built upon the premise that both parents/guardians of children are productive members of society. This means that they hold jobs and contribute to the well-being of society by paying taxes. These taxes support our social welfare system which includes public health care, schools, after school programs, and daycare. It’s also expected that parents take advantage of this system, meaning you’re encouraged to put your children in daycare so that you can return to the workforce.

All of the daycare facilities are run by the state, whether directly or indirectly. There are private daycare facilities as well. Their funding also comes from the state which means they have to play by the same rules. Each school has a specific program that they run each semester, depending on the age of the child.

We pay a nominal monthly fee for the daycare (1645 SEK, or about $150 USD as of the time of this post) and that includes diapers, food, snacks, etc. It basically covers everything that is necessary. The fee is based on your income, so if the parents don’t earn much, daycare could be much cheaper. You’re allowed to have the child in the program 5 days a week. There are even special daycare programs that cater to parents that work evenings and nights, as well as holidays and the summer (e.g., home care nurses, doctors, or firefighters, etc). A clarifying point (thank you Claudia): if you’re on parental leave and have two kids, one of which is in daycare and the other at home, most counties won’t allow you to have the older child at daycare during the full 40 hours. But even that small “downside”, if you can even call it that, is a huge plus relative to the type of childcare that exists in most western countries.

So why am I writing about this? Well, it’s easy to compare salaries between an American and a Swede who have equivalent jobs and come to the conclusion that the American makes way more money on a gross basis. That’s mostly true, but I also learned early on that if you have a family in Sweden, you get so much back from the state.

Here’s what I mean: Daycare costs in the US are prohibitively expensive, so many parents will opt to have one parent stay home to watch the child. In a VHCOL area like the San Francisco Bay Area, putting a child in daycare can cost between $2000 to $3000 (21000 SEK to 32300 SEK) a month. That’s POST-TAX money. And while most daycare centers will discount for the second child, that’s becomes a lot of money for a family of two or more young children. I totally get it – families do the math and figured that both parents working with a child in daycare would actually put them in the red after all of their other costs. So one parent decides to stay home – and this is usually the mother, which has negative effects on their own career opportunities. My mom stayed home with us when we were younger for the very same reason.

Our daughter has been in daycare for over a year now, and we can see how much she’s grown. She gets an opportunity to play and learn with her peers every single day and she has developed such a great relationship with her teachers. They explore nature, learn how to play together, work on their motor and coordination skills, explore their artistic sides…and as her parents, we’re able to focus on our jobs and careers. Yes, it’s a bit stressful in the afternoons when you have to rush home after your last meeting to pick up your child, but that is a price I’ll happily pay.

How do you encourage parents of young children to stay in the workforce? Consider the Swedish daycare system! A #trulyswedish system that actually works, in the author’s humble opinion.

2 thoughts on “The Swedish daycare system (förskola)

  1. Claudia

    An interesting article, on a subject I have had 5 years experience with (my child is now in grundskolan (primary/elementary school), having been at a small. (30 kids) and very creative private preschool close to our home, which we were very happy with.

    Whilst most of what you say I agree with, but the point that you make that “You’re allowed to have the child in the program 5 days a week” isn’t always the case.
    For parents with a younger sibling at home they do not get 5 full days at preschool (presumably as it’s assumed that one or other parents will be home with the baby anyway). So most of these families have their kids in dagis (preschool) mon-thurs or just mornings 5 days a week (I think it’s 20 hrs/ week they can have). This may vary from one municipality to another.
    So your child is only entitled to 5 full days per week if both parents are at work/ actively seeking work/ studying full time.

    I would also say that when you quote preschool prices in US dollars, you are assuming that all your readers know the value of a US doller! Not all of us grew up in the US! 😉 Perhaps a SEK (Swedish Crown) or Euro equivalent would be useful too, for your non-US readers.

    1. Kenneth Chen Post author

      Hi Claudia, thanks for visiting the site! You’re absolutely right, I didn’t get into the details of what happens when one parent is on parental leave. It’s different county to county but the general rule is you’re not able to keep your kid at school as long as you normally would if you had been working full time.

      Good call on the USD reference, I’ll try to make that a little clearer.


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