European Research Network on Philanthropy

Individual members

Johan Vamstad
Ersta Sköndal University College
Insitutionen för Socialt Arbete
email: johan.vamstad@ esh.se
website: Ersta Sköndal University College 

Current research projects on philanthropy in Sweden

More information on current research projects on philanthropy in Sweden will follow shortly.

Current state of Giving Research in Sweden

Sweden has a long tertiary sector tradition with strong historical roots, which is currently being challenged by internal events as well as external ones. It is important to note that Sweden’s membership of the European Union (EU) is now just over a decade old and tertiary sector is being put under pressure. The Swedish tertiary sector model, which is labelled the “popular mass movement model” and is characterized by a strong, historically rooted tradition of membership-based ownership, democratic structure, and voluntary work, exhibits features that distinguish the sector in Sweden (and other Nordic countries) from that of many other countries of Europe

The voluntary work that people carry out includes a number of tasks, either within the framework of voluntary organisations in the form of volunteering, or in the form of informal help- and care giving to family members, neighbours, friends or colleagues. The scope of these different types of activities in Sweden represents more than half a million full-time jobs on a yearly basis in 2005.
Repeated population surveys over a span of 13 years have been carried out by Ersta Sköndal University College and these indicate that Swedish volunteer work not only continues to be extensive, but it is also quite stable. A little more than 50 percent of the population is regularly engaged in volunteering and the time that people devote to this type of work has even increased a little since the previous survey (performed in 1998). It can be seen as a distinct feature of the popular mass movement model to work as a volunteer. During a period of more than 10 years, three major population studies have been conducted. According to the data, the population performs voluntary work (see Table 1).

Table 1. Voluntary work 1992, 1998 and 2005. Percentage of the grown-up population (16-74 years) involved in voluntary work

The average volunteer carries out approximately 14 hours voluntary work per month, which is high, also from an international point of view. The common discourse on civic involvement stating that this type of involvement is rapidly declining, and that social capital is eroding, is not supported in our results. However, the more traditional, Scandinavian popular mass movement way of civic engagement may be at risk of being eroded. Our results show signs of this process actually taking place: Membership in voluntary organisations (which is the traditional bridge into volunteering in the Swedish context) has significantly diminished. This is particularly true for women and young people. Volunteering in political parties and other political organisations continues to fall. Other forms of engagement appear, however, as indicated by the results from the survey of 2005. Taking this into account, there is no reason to be singularly negative about the development of civic engagement in Sweden.
The value basis of volunteering is strongly supported by the Swedish people. It is primarily considered as a “force of its own” which should not be confused with paid work or household work. Even if volunteers can be found in all different age groups, socio-economic groups and among ethnic Swedes as well as immigrants, the “typical volunteer” is a man or woman in the midst of their career, well-educated and well-integrated, who has children, is a born Swede, and who originates from a family who has a tradition of civic involvement. Furthermore, the typical volunteer has more informal networks than the average Swede and is more often engaged in regular informal help- or care giving than the average Swede.
It is possible to observe a socio-economic resource pattern among volunteers. Men and women with higher education and income were more likely to be volunteers. Men and women with a lower degree of education and income were less likely to be volunteers. We could also see that volunteering could be a family pattern, learned from one generation to another.
Explanatory factors for volunteer work can be summarised into three patterns. One has to do with the access to social arenas: People who are exposed to one type of arena are more likely to access other arenas as well. Hence, people involved in paid work, who are parents, etc., are more likely to volunteer than others. Another explanatory pattern has to do with access to socio-economic resources, a third has to do with civic traditions. Volunteering is not “instead of” other activities. Rather, there is a pattern of “in addition to” in the results: Both paid work and volunteering, both other civic involvement and volunteering, etc. The same pattern has been found in other countries. There are grounds for speaking about a cumulative social citizenship. Conversely, volunteering does not seem to function as a bridge into society for marginalized people. In a certain sense, a pattern of polarisation can be distinguished in the results, where a rather large group finds itself outside the civic arena.
Voluntary work in Sweden follows to some extent the contour and organisational structure of the welfare state. But the state has in some sense “crowded out” voluntary work in the field of welfare (compared to other European countries) and the voluntary work now being done is mainly in the area of leisure, sports and culture. But bearing that in mind, the welfare-related tertiary sector is still significant when it comes to voluntary work, especially among women.
Sweden has experienced a low degree of professionalization within the tertiary sector compared to other European countries. But we have seen a recent development – between 1992 and 2002 – where the figures show an increase of nearly 9 percent employed in the sector (from 121,000 to nearly 132,000).

Table 2. Number of employees in the welfare domain

Number of
Number of
In 2005, the total amount of employees was 1 million in the welfare domain, 85 percent of whom were employed in the public sector and around 5 percent in the tertiary sector. The private sector has grown fast in the last decade.
We know that around 130,000 are employed in the tertiary sector, some 35,000 of whom are employed in the welfare domain.
We can also estimate the time that the volunteers in the tertiary sector in total are giving to be around 400,000 FTEs, and that can be compared with the employed to be circa 130,000 FTE in the whole tertiary sector. The characteristic of the Swedish tertiary sector is still one of volunteering, even though the level of memberships is decreasing and becoming more European.
Giving time to relatives and next of kin
While the extent of volunteering has remained stable since it was previously mapped, the extent of informal help- and care giving has increased considerably. In 2005, about 50 percent of the Swedish people were engaged in regular help- and care giving to family members or other close relations. Twenty-two percent of those help people who have particular care needs, i.e. disabled, ill or frail old people, while 28 percent help one or more persons without such specific care needs. The increase in informal helping and caring that can be observed must be assumed to concern help to both types of recipients. Informal help- and care giving is a heterogeneous phenomenon, and the pattern of increase that can be observed may be interpreted in divergent ways: As an expression of a vital Swedish civil society with a great helping potential, or as a response to decreasing care resources from the public sector to those in need. This latter interpretation would be a validation of the pattern of informalisation of public welfare services, which have been noted by other researchers in recent years.
Giving money
In the population study of 2005, we asked volunteers how much money they had donated in the previous 12 months. Unfortunately we could not use these answers due to the Tsunami catastrophe that occurred during these 12 months and this affected people’s willingness to give money profoundly.
With the population study of 2005, we have captured patterns of social capital at both the individual level and the societal level. This study confirms the picture of Sweden as a country of strong social capital, on the one hand. On the other hand, Sweden seems to be in the midst of a significant transformation process with is corresponding complications – at least regarding the long-standing Scandinavian tradition of civic engagement.

Source: Wiepking, P. (Ed.) The State of Giving Research in Europe. Household donations to Charitable Organizations in Twelve Countries. Pallas Publications: Amsterdam, the Netherlands. order here.


Olsson, L-E., Nordfeldt, M., Larsson, O. and Kendall, J. (2009), ‘Sweden: When strong third sector historical roots meet EU policy processes’ in J. Kendall (ed.), Handbook on Third Sector Policy in Europe: Multi Level Processes and Organised Civil Society, Edward Elgar.

Olsson L-E., Svedberg, L. & Jeppsson Grassman, E., (2005). Medborgarnas insatser och engagemang i civilsamhället. Regeringskansliet, Justitiedepartementet.

SCB (2004). 2004:18, Skola, vård och omsorg i privat regi. En sammanställning av statistik. SCB: Örebro.

Svedberg, L. & Lundström, T. (2003). The Voluntary Sector in a Social Democratic Welfare State – The Case of Sweden. In Journal of Social Policy, 32,(2), 217-238.