Why Don’t Swedes Get Married?

Despite the dramatic increase in the movement of people across national borders in recent decades, gender relations in different nations can seem worlds apart.

Scandinavian attitudes have appeared to be some of the most progressive in the world in this regard. But do they explain the lower rates of marriage in Sweden?  

Swedes don’t get married at rates many other nationalities do because they face less scrutiny for being unmarried or raising children outside of marriage.

Backed by generous state support for and legal recognition of various long-term relationships, Swedes enjoy greater freedom to remain unmarried.

This article will compare marriage rates in Sweden to those in other countries and explain how Swedish views on marriage and divorce differ from attitudes in other places. [1]

Also, see What Is Sweden Known For? to learn more.

Sweden marriage
How un(common) is marriage in Sweden? See below

How un(common) is marriage in Sweden?

Marriage rates in Sweden are typical for a wealthy Western European nation.

They are also consistent with long-term global trends that suggest a decline in the popularity of marriage and a rise in cohabitation, and the number of children born outside of marriage. [2] 

Despite the portrayal of Sweden as an outlier in terms of marriage trends, rates of marriage in the country are on par with other advanced capitalist nations.

They are also in the middle of the range of rates for Western European nations and countries ranked globally.

At 5.4 per 1,000 population, the Swedish marriage rate for 2016 was short of the US’ 7 per 1,000 but higher than the UK’s 4.4 per 1,000. 

At 4.7 per 1,000 population, the Swedish rate was also in the middle of the range for Western European countries in 2019.

That year, rates reported in Western Europe ranged from Italy’s 3.1 to Denmark’s 5.3 per 1,000 population. [3]

Similarly, the Swedish marriage rate is significantly higher than the lowest global marriage rate reported in 2018 (1.4 per 1,000 in Qatar). [4]

And it is also notably lower than the highest rate reported globally that year (10 per 1,000 in Gaza and the West Bank). [5]

The decline in marriage rates over the long term in Sweden is also consistent with broader global trends since the 1960s.

These include a decrease in the popularity of marriage, a rise in divorce rates, increased cohabitation, and increases in the age at first marriage and the number of children born outside of marriage.

Also, see How to Move to Sweden to learn more.

Sweden northern lights
How have Swedish views of marriage changed? See below

How have Swedish views of marriage changed over time?

Swedish views of marriage have changed over time to become less favorable. Increasingly, Swedes see marriage as one of several options available to individuals in long-term relationships.

Active state support, legal protections, and the lack of social stigma have encouraged this change. 

Swedish marriage rates have been in a long-term decline for over half a century.

While the Swedish population grew by more than 15% between 1950 and 1982, its marriage rate contracted by 30% over the same period. 

While significant numbers for a nation of just over 10 million, these figures align with broader global trends in recent decades.

The global decline in marriage rates also reflects several other trends outlined in the previous section.

In line with these trends, over 40% of Swedish men in their 30s were unmarried by 1981. By 2011, over 1.3 million people were cohabiting without getting officially married. [6] [7]

These trends are encouraged by the lack of social stigma attached to either cohabiting or raising children outside of wedlock in Sweden.

At the same time, the lack of legal and economic incentives to get married means that Swedes do not feel pressured to get married for practical, logistical, financial, or legal reasons.

It is common in Sweden for couples to stay in a relationship for many years without getting married, whether they are living together or not.

They may even raise children together for many years before choosing to get married. 

Reflecting these values, Swedes have different terms for partners who cohabitate and those who live separately. [8]

The Swedish state and legal system also recognize many types of long-term relationships, allowing Swedish couples to enjoy many of the legal and economic benefits of marriage without being officially married.

At the same time, generous state support for public health and education and generous provisions of parental leave assist parents in raising children individually and reduce their legal and material dependence on a spouse.

For these reasons, marriage has become one of many options open to Swedes in long-term relationships.

Swedes are increasingly comfortable with other kinds of relationships, as they do not face legal, social, and financial difficulties living outside marriages. 

Also, see What Is There To Do In Sweden? to learn more.

Sweden water
How is divorce viewed in Sweden? See below

How is divorce viewed in Sweden?

Divorce is viewed as a solution rather than as a failure in Sweden.

Legal processes to initiate and execute a divorce are simpler, easier, and cheaper than in many other countries, making the process less acrimonious.

There is also less social stigma against divorce in Sweden. 

While not universally true, divorces tend to be less acrimonious in Sweden.

Part of the reason for this is that Swedes have greater freedom to choose whether to get married or not to begin with.

The reasons for this freedom have already been outlined in previous sections.

As with children born outside of marriage, divorce is also less stigmatized in Sweden than in more catholic countries or traditional societies.

Substantial financial support from the state makes it easier for individuals to raise children alone in Sweden.

Finally, processes to initiate and execute a divorce are more straightforward, easier, and cheaper than elsewhere.

Although it takes some time, the procedure only requires the signature of one administration official.

Either party can initiate the divorce without providing any reason for it, and often, a lawyer is not necessary to proceed. [9]

Despite this, as with marriage rates, divorce rates in Sweden are also in line with trends in other wealthy nations.

In 2022, for instance, the Swedish divorce rate of 2.5 per 1,000 population was very close to the US’ 2.7 per 1,000.


Social norms, state support, and legal protections encourage many Swedes to choose not to marry, even if they are co-parents in a committed relationship.

Also, see What Do Swedes Think of IKEA? to learn more.

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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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