Comparing two countries isn’t always easy, especially two as different in size and location as these. But you may be surprised to hear that there are more similarities between Sweden and the USA than you think.
Of course, at the same time, any comparison of Sweden vs USA is going to come up with a bunch of differences as well.
And then that brings you to the ultimate question: Is the US better than Sweden – or vice versa?
While that can be extremely subjective (and it goes without being said that what is “better” for one person may not be “better” for another!), there may be some points either way that swing you in favor of one over the other.
Table of Contents
Similarities between Sweden and the USA
- Both Sweden and the US are democracies
- Both countries have elections every four years and you have to be 18 years old to vote in either Sweden or the US
- They granted women the right to vote very close to one another – the US in August 1920 and Sweden just six months later in January 1921
- Both the Swedish and US Constitutions enshrine freedom of speech
- A significant number of people speak English in Sweden and the US. In fact, Swedish people speak English as a second language better than almost any other country in the world.
- Pop culture is very similar in each country and, in particular, each shares their major music artists with one another. You’ll find all major US artists being played on Swedish radio, but the same is also true in reverse. For example, have you heard of ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, Robyn, Avicii, Swedish House Mafia, The Cardigans…
- Hunting is also popular in both countries, with hunting in Sweden being popular with US tourists.
- Both the US and Sweden rank as having very high human development according to the Human Development Index, which measures a summary of having “a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and [having] a decent standard of living”.
- Sweden and the USA have a similar number of citizens with a university-level education. In Sweden, this includes 49.2% of 25-34 year olds while it’s slightly higher in the US with 51.2% of people in that age range.
- It’s very easy to start a business in both Sweden and the USA. This report ranks the US at 6th in the world, with Sweden just behind at 10th.
- The fertility rate (as births per woman) is very similar in each country. In the US, latest figures put this at 1.6 while Sweden is ever-so-close at 1.7.
- Both the US and Sweden have Swedish fish! Clearly this is a very important similarity, even if the one sold in the US isn’t actually the Swedish version.
Find out more: 31 Best Reasons to Move to Sweden
Sweden vs USA: What’s the difference?
1. The US is (significantly) bigger than Sweden
This is perhaps an obvious one, but as it’s one of the most obvious differences, it needs to be mentioned. That is, the US is bigger both in terms of actual size and the number of people in the country.
How big is Sweden in comparison to the US?
The US is around 22 times larger than Sweden, with the US being 9,834 million km² (3.797 million mi²) in size compared to Sweden’s 450,295 km² (173,860 mi²). Sweden is also about 32 times smaller when it comes to population size, with 10.35 million people compared to the US’ population of 329.5 million.
That said, Sweden is the biggest country in Scandinavia in terms of population but it comes second to Norway when looking at surface area.
2. Sweden has a higher life expectancy
While the two are relatively close, Sweden does have a higher life expectancy at 83.5 years. The US is slightly less at 78.2 years on average.
3. The US has a much higher GDP
It’s perhaps not a surprise to hear this, but GDP in the US far exceeds that of Sweden, at $22,996,100 vs $627,437.90 respectively.
This makes the US’ GDP more than 36 times bigger than Sweden’s.
4. Taxes are higher on average in Sweden
While the amount of income taxes you’ll pay varies a lot based on a number of factors, taxes are higher overall in Sweden vs the USA.
As just one example, if you look at the figures for a single person with no children, you’ll pay 28.41% of your income on taxes. In Sweden, however, this figure rises to 42.57%.
5. Salaries are higher in the US vs Sweden
While there’s definitely a discussion to be had on working rights in the US vs Sweden, as you’ll see below, you at least have a chance of having more in your pocket in the US.
Specifically, when it comes to average wages globally, the US far outranks Sweden at an amount of US$74,738. Sweden, on the other hand, has an average wage of US$48,951.
Are salaries high in Sweden?
Salaries are not necessarily high in Sweden, but are very reasonable. The OECD states that the average salary in Sweden is USD 48,951, equivalent to around SEK 550,000 per year or SEK 46,000 (USD 4,080) per month. This is slightly less than the OECD average of USD 51,607.
It’s also, as mentioned above, much lower than the average wage in the US. At the same time, simply looking at the dollar (or kronor) amount doesn’t paint the full picture.
Instead, considering things like income equality (where Sweden ranks very highly, as you’ll see below), taxation rates and, importantly, what you get for those taxes all help you see much more accurately whether a salary is good or not.
We’ll run through some of those points in more detail below
6. Greater income equality in Sweden vs USA
Sweden is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to income inequality. What this means is that, in many fields, the standard income for most workers is enough to have a good quality of life.
You can see how well Sweden does on this point when comparing it to the US. The Gini Index provides a “score” for each country showing its income inequality, with a lower score being better overall.
Sweden’s current “score” is 29.3, while the US’ is 41.5.
This means that, on average, you’re much more likely to be able to afford a reasonable quality of life on a normal salary in Sweden compared to those countries with higher numbers.
7. Lower gender income gap in Sweden
Knowing that you’re going to be paid what you’re worth, no matter your gender, is an important point to consider before moving somewhere. Luckily, Sweden ranks highly on this point according to the OECD.
Specifically, Sweden has a wage gap percentage of 7.4% while the US is more than double that at 16.9%.
Sweden’s not perfect – it’s not even the best in Scandinavia on this point, with Norway and Denmark actually scoring better in this regard. However, it still does very well here, including that the gender gap is much lower compared to the US.
8. Better work-life balance in Sweden
A healthy work-life balance is absolutely a priority in Sweden. In fact, the OECD found that only about 1% of Swedish employees work very long hours in paid work, one of the lowest rates in the OECD.
On the other hand, around 10% of employees work very long hours in the US, in line with the OECD average.
You may also be interested in: Life in Sweden: 25 Points on What It’s Actually Like (to Know Before Moving)
9. More annual leave in Sweden vs the US
Working rights are definitely held in high regard in Sweden, with Swedish workers being legally entitled to at least five weeks of annual leave per year!
And the US? Well, as highlighted in this report, it’s the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time. The result of this is that 1 in 4 private-sector workers in the US don’t get any paid vacation or paid holidays.
10. Lower working hours in Sweden
To continue the theme above, the average working hours in Sweden are lower when compared to other countries. While Sweden isn’t the absolute lowest in the OECD, working hours are much less than other countries, showing their commitment to a good work-life balance.
Specifically, Swedes work an average of 1,444 hours per year. This is in comparison to the US, where you’ll work an average of 1,791 hours per year.
11. More parental leave benefits in Sweden vs the US
This one is hardly a surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention to discussions on this issue over the years, but it’s worth mentioning as an important distinction between Sweden vs USA.
That is, Sweden is one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to prioritizing the balance between your career and family. Parental leave is paid out for 480 days (approximately 16 months) for each child. In the spirit of gender equality, parents are encouraged to share the leave.
For this reason, 90 days out of the total 480 days are reserved for each parent. Only single custody parents are entitled to take out the 480 days on their own.
During this period, parents generally get 80% of their salary if they have been working legally in Sweden for at least 240 days and paid taxes.
The US, on the other hand, is the only developed country that offers no national paid parental leave.
12. More people in the US have completed secondary education
While both countries are above the OECD average of 79%, the US is actually the winner here. That is, 92% of American adults aged 25-64 have completed upper secondary education while, in Sweden, the figure is lower at 84% of adults in the same age range.
13. College is cheaper in Sweden vs USA
This one also isn’t going to be a big surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention.
In the US, the amount you’ll pay for college varies depending on the type you go to. For a private college, expect to pay $39,723 per year. This figure drops to $22,953 for a public out-of-state college and all the way down to $10,423 for a public in-state college.
While that makes the latter option seem like the best financial choice, buckle up for the Swedish figure – which is zero. Yep, you can go to any Swedish university for free if you’re an EU or EEA citizen or have Swedish permanent residency.
Even as a foreigner studying in Sweden, it’s not a bad deal. Tuition fees commonly range from between SEK 80,000 and SEK 140,000 per year – that’s around USD 9,000 to USD 17,000. And many courses are done in English, so you don’t have to worry about that either.
14. More people have a foreign born parent in Sweden
This one surprised me, to be honest, as I really thought it would be the other way around.
That is, it’s reported that 26.3% of children under 18 in the US live with at least one foreign-born parent. However, in Sweden, the number of newborn infants with at least one foreign born parent in the last available statistics was actually 38%.
While those are slightly different in terms of the range they are looking at, it shows that both countries have strong immigration records. And on that point…
15. More immigrants move to the US compared to Sweden
Looking at the figures for 2019 (i.e. the year before the pandemic – even if they’re not the most up to date figures, they better reflect a “normal” year), Sweden received 98,235 immigrants.
However, when it comes to the US, that number was an astronomical 1,031,765 people who immigrated there. This isn’t so surprising when you consider that the US was built on immigration, although this makes it clear that this is still a firm part of American society.
16. Sweden spends less on healthcare than the US
As reported by the OECD, the US spends by far the most on health care, equivalent to 16.8% of its GDP. Sweden is relatively high when looking at other OECD countries, but it’s still well below the US, spending 10.9% of its GDP on health care.
However, the US has a significantly higher GDP than Sweden, so it may be more accurate to look at this in terms of health expenditure per capita. This tells a similar story though.
Specifically, Sweden spends a total of US$5,552 per capita on health care. The US, on the other hand, basically doubles this at US$10,948 per capita.
17. Sweden is ranked as having better healthcare
I’m pretty hesitant to say when either the US or Sweden has something “better” than the other – so, in this case, someone else has done it for me.
In US News’ Best Country Index, Sweden is ranked as having the third best public healthcare system in the world (only beaten by Germany and fellow Scandinavian country, Denmark). The US, however, was ranked number 21.
This could be linked to the fact that Sweden’s healthcare system is primarily government funded and is universal for all citizens. The US’ system, famously, is not.
18. Sweden has cleaner air than the US
The World Air Quality Report by IQAir ranks countries based on the level of fine particulate matter present in the air.
In this report, the US was at number 23 globally with a reading of 9.6. Sweden, on the other hand, was number 4 in the world with 5.0, almost half the US’ result.
Of course, this is going to very much depend on where in each country you are – either the middle of a major city or in the middle of nowhere. But the results are nevertheless what they are.
19. Sweden has cleaner water than the US
Along with the high air quality is the fact that the quality of water in Sweden is top notch and ranks among the best in the world. Specifically, Sweden ranks 10th for sanitation and drinking water, while the US is further down the list at number 26.
20. The US has higher CO2 emissions per capita
It would be unfair to compare CO2 emissions without consideration of the much larger population in the US. That’s why looking at this figure per capita is much more accurate.
This doesn’t, however, paint a better picture for the US. That is, the US emits 14.7 metric tons per capita, compared to Sweden’s 3.4 metric tons.
The outcome of this is that the average American releases almost four times more CO2 per year than the average Swede.
21. Sweden aims to reach net zero emissions earlier than the US
Sweden has pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2045 while the US plans to achieve this target by 2050.
However, it’s worth mentioning that Sweden has actually codified this into law, which is a great step towards ensuring that goal will be met.
22. The US has a lower share of renewables in energy production
A key way that the above mentioned net zero targets will be achieved is through each country moving towards renewables. One country is, however, doing better than the other on this point.
That is, when looking at the share of renewables in energy production, Sweden is at 67%. It’s actually generated the majority of its energy through renewable energy for more than a decade now and the target is 100 per cent renewable electricity production by 2040.
The US, on the other hand, is only at 20.5%, showing there’s quite a way to go there.
23. There are more national parks in the US vs Sweden
A lot of this is going to largely be due to the massive difference in the size of each country, but it’s still worth mentioning.
That is, Sweden has 28 national parks throughout the country while the US has more than double that, at 63. These protected areas reflect the fact that both Sweden and the USA have some absolutely beautiful natural landscapes – something the two definitely have in common.
24. Sweden has stricter gun laws than the US
Sweden’s gun laws are often cited in comparison to those in the US. In brief, Sweden has stricter rules when it comes to how you can obtain a gun license and they go through a vigorous process to qualify for gun ownership.
This is in comparison to the US where gun ownership rules are far less regulated.
Is Sweden colder than the US?
Sweden is, on average, colder than the US, especially given that the US has a much wider range of climates. However, both winters and summers are relatively mild in most of Sweden, except for the north where it can get much colder than the rest of the country.
For example, in Stockholm, the average temperature range in January is between 1°C (34°F) and -3°C (27°F). In July, however, the average high is 24°C ‘(75°F) with the average low being 15°C (59°F).
Depending on where in the US you are, these may be much cooler or much warmer than you’re used to in those months.
This can also vary in Sweden itself, with Norrland in northern Sweden having average minimums of -13°C ‘(9°F) in winter. This is also the area where it gets dark in Sweden for quite some time in winter.
Why the US is better than Sweden
The US is generally better than Sweden when it comes to job and salary opportunities. Average wages tend to be higher in the US and there is also a greater range of industry, offering employment in a wider range of fields than Sweden.
Of course, Swedish industry is nothing to sniff at. It’s got growing technology expertise, is the hub for Swedish companies like Ericson, IKEA, Spotify, and Volvo and also thrives in other manufacturing fields, like weapons.
That said, overall, the US does have more in this regard – which is perhaps obvious given its much larger population. For similar reasons, the US is also more significant when it comes to global affairs, as well as things like exporting cultural aspects.
Why Sweden is better than the US
Sweden tends to offer a better quality of life than the US, especially when it comes to points such as work-life balance, working conditions and benefits, and access to healthcare and free education. It is also considered to be more environmentally friendly and safer.
While some of these points can be somewhat subjective, there’s no question when looking at objective facts that Sweden can offer more in terms of employment benefits.
Legally mandated annual and parental leave are just part of the picture, as there is also more of a culture of encouraging a healthy work-life balance. This is compared to the US where working longer hours is often seen as a sign of being a more dedicated employee.
Sweden has also done more in trying to address climate change and violent crime is at much lower levels there vs the US. Access to free healthcare is also important and free education, including at college level, is a major plus.
Is Sweden a good country to live in?
Sweden is definitely a good country to live in. With good employment opportunities coupled with a culture that encourages a healthy work-life balance, along with a strong public system with free healthcare and education for its citizens, living in Sweden is, overall, a very positive thing.
Of course, no country is perfect. While temperatures aren’t too extreme, the long gray winters can get a bit frustrating, especially if you prefer warmer weather. Swedish can be hard to learn too (although you won’t always need it given how many languages Swedish people speak on average).
Fortunately, Swedish people are – in my experience – very nice and friendly overall. A typical trait of Swedish people is that they do like to plan in advance and many people report that it can be a bit hard to break into social circles, so don’t expect to be rocking up to parties on day one in the country.
But with some time and patience, I’m sure you’ll be able to settle very comfortably into Swedish society.
Which US state is most like Sweden?
Minnesota is the US state most like Sweden. The state has 410,091 Swedish-Americans, the most of any US state, making up 7.3% of the state’s population and many buildings remain showing the history of Swedish immigration to the state. Average temperatures are also very similar to Sweden.
Just take a look at Scandia, a town in Minnesota with Swedish wooden houses throughout. The bell tower in Mora is also mimicked off similar ones in Sweden, with the town also being the finish line for Vasaloppet USA, a cross-country skiing race with its name taken from the same race back in Sweden.
And don’t forget Lindström where you’re greeted with a sign proclaiming “Välkommen till Lindström” as you arrive.
There are also cultural similarities, including things like similar overall economic and education levels, indicating the historical influence that immigration from Sweden to Minnesota continues to have on the state.
Is it cheaper to live in Sweden than the USA?
No, it is cheaper to live in the US than Sweden. According to World Bank data, the cost of living in Sweden is 9.3% higher on average compared to the US. The average monthly income is also higher in the US.
You can see the data here, keeping in mind that it’s important to consider other aspects when looking at this information.
That is, it’s certainly true that you’ll likely earn more pre-tax in the US, where taxes are also lower than in Sweden. At the same time, you do get more for your taxes in Sweden than in the US, with things like healthcare and education (including college level) both being free for Swedish citizens.
It’s also very much going to vary between different cities. Comparing New York with Stockholm, for example, is no competition, but looking at more rural areas, the answer could differ.
Which country is most similar to Sweden?
Norway and Denmark are the countries most similar to Sweden. They share very similar languages and have cultures with many similar values, largely due to their shared histories. Their systems of government are also alike as are their landscapes, although Norway is more similar in that regard.
Sweden, Denmark and Norway were actually the same country at various points in history, including throughout the Viking era, and so it’s unsurprising that they have many similarities.
This includes the fact that people from these countries can often understand each other when speaking in their native languages, even if some words and pronunciation (especially in the case of Denmark) can differ somewhat.
Geographically, they are also very close to one another which inevitably leads to one having an impact on the others over time.
While, of course, there are distinct differences between each of them, you’ll also easily find many similarities when visiting each country – much more so than you’ll see between Sweden and various other European countries.