The Scandinavian Peninsula: 16 Facts

The Scandinavian Peninsula is one of the most fascinating places in the world. It has a interesting past, a unique present, and an optimistic future.

The Scandinavian Peninsula, in Northern Europe, is home to the countries of Norway, Sweden, and part of Finland.

It is Europe’s largest peninsula, measuring 289,500 square miles. It is 1,150 miles long. Its width varies from 250 to 500 miles.

Some people mistakenly assume that Denmark is part of the peninsula since it is part of the region known as “Scandinavia.”

However, Denmark is not part of the same landmass, so by definition, it is not part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Keep reading to learn more.

Why is Scandinavia’s economic system so controversial to some people? See the article Democratic Socialism in Scandinavia to learn for yourself.

Map of Scandinavia

1. The Happiest People in the World Live in Scandinavia

All three counties located on the Scandinavian Peninsula rank among the happiest in the world, according to the World Happiness Report. [1]

Published annually by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the report ranks 156 countries according to the level of happiness that their citizens perceive. [2]

The report surveys citizens from each country regarding their feelings of generosity and trust, among other topics.

The United Nations’ questionnaire also asks people if they have someone to rely on and if they sense having the freedom to make important life choices on their own.

In addition to surveying the citizens, the study considers the effects that inequality may have on happiness and whether a country’s social programs effectively reduce disparities.

After analyzing those factors, the three countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula ranked in the top ten globally [3]:

  • Finland ranked #1
  • Norway ranked #5
  • Sweden ranked #7

For the sake of comparison, the United States usually ranks between 13th and 19th in the annual survey.

Global Ranking of Cities: The World Happiness Report also ranked cities based on their subjective sense of happiness. [4]

It also looked deeper into the relationship between natural, social, and urban environments.

  • Helsinki, the capital of Finland, ranked as the happiest city in the world
  • Two cities from Norway ranked in the top ten with Bergen in sixth place and Oslo in seventh
  • Additionally, Stockholm, Switzerland, ranked in ninth place

For the sake of comparison, two cities in the United States, Washington D.C. ranked 18th, and Dallas, Texas ranked 19th.

Scandinavian family fun
Many people enjoy outdoor activities on the Scandinavian Peninsula

Why Scandinavian Peninsula Countries are so Happy

In addition to ranking countries, the U.N.’s Global Happiness Report assessed why people in Scandinavia are so happy with their lives.

According to their analysis, reasons for their happiness include [5]:

  • A sense of autonomy and freedom throughout the region
  • Amplified levels of satisfaction with life
  • Belief in the functioning of democratic institutions
  • Extensive and reliable social welfare benefits
  • Heightened levels of social trust toward each other
  • High-quality civic institutions
  • Low levels of corruption and crime
  • Socio-economic parity

The key to happiness in highly-ranked countries consists of state institutions that aren’t corrupt, governments that deliver on their promises and that are generous with regard to helping their citizens confront various adversities.

Individuals and families in Scandinavian countries have some of the highest tax rates in the world, which fund these social benefits.

Why Are there still Scandinavians that believe in Norse mythology? See the article Religion in Scandinavia to learn more.

2. Norway, Sweden, and Finland Rank High for Quality of Life

The nations that reside on the Scandinavian Peninsula all rank in the Top 10 for quality of life, according to the 2020 Best Countries Ranking. [6]

Published by U.S. News and World Report in partnership with the Wharton School of Business and global strategic consultancy [7], and the BAV Group [8], the report includes a ranking of countries based on their quality of life.

All three countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula ranked in the top ten [9]:

  • Sweden ranked #3
  • Norway ranked #4
  • Finland ranked #9

For the sake of comparison, Canada ranked #1, and the United States ranked #15.

That report based its findings on a study that surveyed citizens from 73 countries regarding nine attributes related to their quality of life. Those attributes include: 

  • The cost of living
  • Economic stability
  • Income equality
  • The job market 

Additionally, it consisted of measuring each country in these areas: 

  • Overall safety
  • Political security 
  • The public education system 
  • Public healthcare
  • Whether the county is family-friendly

See the full article, Why Are Scandinavian Countries So Happy? for more.

3. Scandinavian Peninsula Countries Rank High for Human Development

The Scandinavian Peninsula countries all ranked high for human development, according to the United Nations Human Development Report for 2019. [10]

Published annually by the United Nations Development Program, the report ranked 189 countries and territories based on four tiers of human development. Those tiers include:

  • life expectancy at birth
  • expected years of schooling
  • mean years of education
  • gross national income per capita

Based on these criteria, the countries on the Scandinavian Peninsula earned the following rankings:

  • Norway ranked #1
  • Sweden ranked #8
  • Finland ranked #12

For the sake of comparison, the United States ranked #15.

4. Scandinavian Peninsula Geography

The Scandinavian Peninsula includes a range of geographic features. [12] For example, the Scandinavian Mountain Range forms the border between Sweden and Norway.

The Swedish side of that range includes expansive slopes that drop down, containing heavily-forested areas dotted with lakes along the shores of the Baltic Sea.

On Norway’s side of the range, the mountains extend to the coastline of the Norwegian Sea.

Fjords of various sizes and depths can be found throughout the mountains.

The highest mountain in the Scandinavian Peninsula is Galdhøpiggen, at about 8,100 feet above sea level.

The glacier-topped Glittertinden was considered to be among the highest mountain for several years.

However, the glacier shrunk in recent years, solidifying the Galdhøpiggen’s claim as the highest mountain.

Approximately 25 percent of the Scandinavian Peninsula lies to the north of the Arctic Circle. Yet, 94 percent of the population lies to the south of the Arctic Circle. [13]

The Barents Sea provides the northern border; the Skagerrak and Kattegat Seas the southern border; the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia the eastern border; the North and Norwegian Seas the western border.

Scandinavia is often described as Nordic, but what does that mean? See Is Scandinavia Nordic? to learn more.

5. “Scandinavia” and the Scandinavian Peninsula aren’t the same thing

Although both Scandinavia and the Scandinavian Peninsula refer to the same region, there are distinct differences between the two terms.

Historically, “Scandinavia” includes Norway and Sweden, with the addition of Denmark. [14]

However, some experts include Finland on economic grounds and because it was once part of the kingdom of Sweden. [15]

Likewise, some include Iceland in the regional name for linguistic reasons and because Denmark once possessed the country.

On the other hand, the “Scandinavian Peninsula” only includes the countries of Norway, Sweden, and the western portion of Finland.

Although this distinction might seem confusing, it isn’t if one considers the definition of a peninsula.

A peninsula is a portion of land that is almost surrounded by water and connected to a larger landmass by an isthmus or a narrow strip of land surrounded on both sides by the sea.

Additionally, some people refer to Scandinavia as the Nordic Region.

This designation comes from the French term for the area le pays Nordiques or the Nordic Countries. [16]

6. “Scandinavia” dates to the 1st century

As a word, Scandinavia traces back to a Proto-Germanic term used in the first century A.D.

However, modern use of the name originated during the early eighteenth century by European academics who championed Denmark, Sweden, and Norway’s shared culture, mythology, and history.

The usage of the term “Scandinavia” to describe Denmark, Norway, and Sweden was solidified in the nineteenth century as a result of literary works.

For example, inspired by a trip to Sweden, Danish author Hans Christian Andersen published a poem named “I am a Scandinavian” in 1839. [17]

Andersen wrote to a friend that “the boundaries of my home were extended” as a result of that journey. [18]

Continuing, he added, “All at once, I understood how related the Swedes, the Danes and the Norwegians are, and with this feeling, I wrote the poem immediately after my return.”

Countries like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have a fascinating history. See When was Scandinavia founded? to learn more.

Northern Lights Norway
Northern Lights in Norway

7. The Scandinavian Peninsula has popular natural destinations

The Scandinavian Peninsula does not offer sunny beaches and temperate weather like Morocco or Spain.

However, it does offer a variety of breathtaking opportunities for nature lovers.

A few must-see travel destinations in the region include [19]:

  • The Northern Lights: All three countries in the Scandinavian Peninsula offer spectacular views of the northern lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis. Although there is never a guarantee that they will appear on any given night, they can typically be viewed about 200 days a year.
  • Sweden’s Archipelago: Located close to Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm, this cluster of islands features rocky cliffs and enough spectacular landscapes to keep visitors busy for days. The area is packed with shops, museums, and restaurants as well.
  • Norway’s Fjords: The western edge of Norway features a spectacular network of fjords, deep underwater valleys extending inland from the Norwegian Sea. The fjord region also features glaciers, mountains, and waterfalls galore.
  • Finland’s Forests: Forests cover nearly 80 percent of Finland. Located about 45 minutes from Finland’s capital city of Helsinki, Nuuksio National Park features a spectacular mix of forests, lakes, streams, and ravines.

8. Scandinavian Peninsula has popular urban destinations

In addition to its natural wonders, the Scandinavian Peninsula is home to some of the world’s most exciting cosmopolitan cities and towns.

From world-class museums to designer boutiques and world-class cuisine, the Scandinavian Peninsula offers something for everyone.

But it’s also a land of surprisingly cosmopolitan cities, quirky towns and villages, world-class museums, and a vast range of places to stay, from remote glamping sites and treehouses to trendy hostels, boutique B&Bs, and converted castles.

  • Bergen, Norway: Located on Norway’s west coast, Bergen is surrounded by seven mountains and is the gateway to Norway’s fjords. The city’s main cultural venue is Grieg Hall, home to the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bergen Woodwind Quintet. The city has a booming modern art scene, numerous theaters, and hosts the annual Bergen International Film Festival.
  • Stockholm, Sweden: Built on 14 islands and connected by more than 50 bridges, Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. The city is home to numerous top-class museums including the famous ABBA Museum, the Nobel Museum, and the Academy of Fine Arts. The city also provides art galleries, theaters, and an amusement park named Gröna Lund.
  • Tampere, Finland: Tampere is the largest inland city in Scandinavia and the second-largest metropolitan area in Finland. Nestled between two lakes,  Näsijärvi and Pyhäjärvi, the city offers spectacular views, outdoor adventure as well as the comforts of city life. Well-known for its cultural life, Tampere is home to numerous museums, galleries, and theaters. Additionally, it is home to the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra and host to the Tampere Film Festival, a yearly short-film festival.

The people of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are fascinating, but there aren’t very many of them. See Why Is Scandinavia Less Populated? to learn more.

9. Paid family leave in the Scandinavian Peninsula ranks among the best

The Scandinavian Peninsula is home to some of the best-paid family leave programs worldwide.

For example, Finland recently announced a family leave reform scheduled to go into effect at an unspecified date in 2021. [20]

Under that reform, the total amount of family leave would increase from the current level of 12.7 months to about 14 months.

A pregnant mother receives a daily allowance period of about one month before the anticipated due date for the birth of the child.

Likewise, Norway has one of the most flexible and generous family leave systems in the world.

Mothers can take up to 49 weeks of parental leave at full pay or 59 weeks of leave at 80 percent of their salary. [21] The website for the federal government states:

Parental benefit is financial assistance intended to ensure parents an income in connection with the birth or adoption of a child.

You are entitled to parental benefit if you have been employed and have received a pensionable income for at least six of the ten months prior to the start of the benefit period. 

If you are employed, the parental benefit basis is normally calculated on the basis of your income at the start of the leave period.

The total benefit period for parental benefit in connection with a birth is 49 weeks at 100 percent coverage, and 59 weeks at 80 percent coverage.

Parents in Sweden are entitled to a total of 480 days leave at about 80 percent of their usual pay provided he or she has worked for a minimum of 240 days the prior year and paid taxes.

That payment applies for the first 390 days of parental leave. Then, the amount is reduced for the remaining 90 days. 

Additionally, each parent has an “exclusive right” to 90 days of that leave due to governmental concerns regarding gender equality. [22]

10. The Scandinavian Peninsula and the Nordic Model of Governance

The political structure of the Scandinavian Peninsula combines its economic structure with social welfare systems.

The Nordic Model combines elements of capitalism like economic efficiency and a free-market economy with social benefits like income distribution and state-led pension programs.

Describing the economic success of the Nordic model in countries like Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the American business magazine Forbes recently called the region’s political system “compassionate capitalism.” [23]

Other authorities describe the system as being a form of social democracy that embraces strict state-sponsored regulations and rejects the concept of state ownership of industry and distribution.

Political science professor and sociologist Lane Kenworthy of the University of Arizona recently described social democracy as a hybrid of capitalism and democracy.

According to Kenworthy, free markets are the driving force leading all economic activity and not government ownership in a social democracy.

However, the government leads programs at the same time that facilitate shared economic prosperity for all, along with economic opportunity and security.

11. Economic Freedom in the Peninsula is Similar to the USA

All three countries in the Scandinavian Peninsula rank extremely high in regard to the Index of Economic Freedom. [24]

Published annually by The Heritage Foundation, the report explained that economic freedom relates to individual autonomy primarily concerned with the “freedom of choice enjoyed by individuals in acquiring and using economic goods and resources.”

Continuing, The Heritage Foundation added that the underlying assumption is that individuals better understand their needs better than the “technocratic elite” or “government.”

Additionally, the Foundation emphasized that a self-directed life is the “foundation of a fulfilling existence.”

“Independence and self-respect flow from the ability and responsibility to take care of oneself and one’s family and are invaluable contributors to human dignity and equality.”

The Analysis: To determine countries’ economic freedom, The Heritage Foundation examines 12 freedoms, broken down into 4 categories or pillars. 

The 4 Pillars12 Corresponding Freedoms
Government Sizefiscal health, tax burden, and government spending
Open Marketstrade freedom, financial freedom, and investment freedom
Regulatory Efficiencylabor freedom, business freedom, and monetary freedom
Rule of Lawjudicial effectiveness, government integrity, and property rights

Next, The Heritage Foundation ranks each of those 12 freedoms for each country on a scale from 0 to 100. Then, the foundation averages those scores giving “equal weight” to each freedom, and rank them using the following scale:

Freedom RankingCorrelating Composite Score Range
Free100 to 80
Mostly Free79.9 to 70
Moderately Free69.9 to 60
Mostly Free59.9 to 50
Repressed49.9 to 0

Singapore headed up the list with a composite score of 89.4 out of 100 points. Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, and Ireland completed the list of countries designated “free.”

All three countries in the Scandinavian Peninsula ranked similarly to the United States, ranking as “mostly free.”

Next-door neighbor and fellow Scandinavian country Denmark ranked in position 8, with a score of 78.3. The report summarizes:

Denmark’s economic freedom score is 78.3, making its economy the 8th freest in the 2020 Index.

Its overall score has increased by 1.6 points, led by increases in scores for government integrity and judicial effectiveness.

Denmark is ranked 4th among 45 countries in the Europe region, and its overall score is well above the regional and world averages.

Denmark’s economy has been in the mostly free category for 19 years but still has not broken through to the top ranks of the free.

The reasons are excessive government spending and a tax burden that is simply too heavy. Those two problems may explain why GDP growth over the past five years has been modest.

The United States ranked in position 17, with a score of 76.6. Finland ranked 20 with 75.7, Sweden at 22 with 74.9, and Norway at 28 with a score of 73.4.

12. Success in the Scandinavian Peninsula is Cultural, Not Economic

Current research suggests that economic success in the Scandinavian Peninsula relates to the cultural components of the political system instead of financial ones.

Nima Sanandaji, a researcher at London’s Center for Policy Studies, recently discussed cultural events leading up to the development of the current economic system in the Scandinavian region. [25]

According to Sanandaji, Scandinavian countries in the 19th century “created vast amounts of wealth, founded new firms and industries, and generated societies with high degrees of social trust and moral responsibility.”

Continuing, Sanandaji concluded that the region’s “experiments in welfare statism” would have turned differently had it not been for the earlier development of “social orders.”

Those social orders, in turn, created the wealth the Scandinavian countries used to implement societal welfare safety nets.

13. Minimum Wage Doesn’t Exist in the Scandinavian Peninsula

Another aspect of the socio-political structure of the Scandinavian region is the lack of any minimum wage statutes.

Instead of codifying wage standards, collective bargaining agreements between workers and unions ultimately determine wage standards. 

Additionally, those agreements determine separate minimum wage standards for each particular industry or occupation.

The Foundation for Economic Freedom, a public advocacy organization dedicated to advancing economic and political liberties, recently discussed the benefits of this system. [26]

According to their analysis, although “union-imposed wages” have their inherent problems, overall.”

Moreover, “such a decentralized system is still arguably a much better way of doing things than having” government impose a “one-size-fits-all” minimum wage policy that covers all occupations nationally.

14. Scandinavian Healthcare is Outstanding

The Scandinavian Peninsula’s healthcare systems have been in place for several decades. [27] The system runs on three well-established pillars:

  • primary access to facilities
  • treatment services
  • preventative healthcare measures

These publicly funded healthcare systems cover all three countries in the region.

Additionally, these systems guarantee citizen access to healthcare using publicly operated and owned clinics and hospitals.

The entire Scandinavian area consistently receives some of the best healthcare rankings globally by groups such as the World Health Organization.

Healthcare Costs in Scandinavia: Tax revenues at the local and federal levels account for roughly 75 to 85 percent of the cost of healthcare and related services in Scandinavia.

However, the system requires cost-sharing payments for services such as hospitalization. Likewise, the system requires co-payments for pharmaceuticals and equipment.

The average cost for medical care related to gross domestic product ranges from about nine percent to nearly eleven percent in the region.

This economic burden is about average for countries as per the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. [28]

However, that cost burden is roughly 40 percent less than associated costs in the United States.

Dental services are free for children but can run extremely high for adults. Fortunately, citizens can purchase private insurance to cover dental care, elective procedures and non-acute hospital care.

Healthcare Administration in the Scandinavian Peninsula: The basic structure and functioning of the Scandinavian healthcare system are relatively simple and haven’t changed much for decades.

Under the region’s healthcare system, patients select their primary care physicians. And these doctors act as gatekeepers for specialized services and hospitalization.

15. Employment Rates are Rising in the Scandinavian Peninsula

Full employment is one of the critical components of the Nordic model.

Historically, Nordic countries have experienced high employment rates, particularly for older workers and women.

Nordic countries measure the employment rate as a ratio of the working-age population as a whole, considering citizens aged 15 to 64.

The Nordic Council of Ministers recently reported that the employment rate has increased throughout the region for the past several years. [29]

For example, the average rate of employment in 2018 for Nordic countries was 79.4-percent, which is considerably higher than the European Union’s rate of 67.7-percent.

Looking to the future, the Nordic Council of Ministers is researching labor markets extending to 2040.

Expecting the proportion of the working-age population to decrease, the Council anticipates that future competitiveness may have to rely more on the proper allocation of the workforce more than on job creation.

Other factors being studied include the long-range impact of automation and the future capacity for artificial intelligence to automate tasks currently associated with middle to highly-skilled laborers.

Current projections suggest that up to a third of all Nordic country jobs could be at risk in short to medium term due to automation.

As a result, studies are currently being conducted to discover ways to reallocate future workforces.

16. Sweden Provides a Voucher Program for Education

Starting in 1992, Sweden has offered a government-sponsored nationwide voucher program for education. [30]

The system was designed to give more local control to municipalities and school districts over their educational systems. 

Families have the option to choose any school they want, public or private, from grade school through college, and they can use public funds, in the form of vouchers, to pay for it all. 

A recent study concluded that this expansion improved “average educational performance” through junior high and “in the long run in terms of high school grades and university attendance.” [31]

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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