The myth about «free Scandinavian love» – is it true or false?
Is the institution of marriage disappearing? “Marriage is slowly dying in Scandinavia,” wrote the Weekly Standard, as early as 2004. “Same-sex marriage has undermined the institution of marriage,” researcher Stanley Kurz claimed in the magazine.
The fact, however, is that statistics show that it’s not so, even if USA Today echoed the statement, suggesting that “marriage in parts of Scandinavia is dying.” Why is an American researcher worried about marital bliss, or lack thereof, among people living on the roof of Europe?
I admit that many Scandinavian couples live together as unmarried, so-called ‘sambo’. Some of these couples eventually decide to have a wedding, if only as an excuse to have a big party.
Norwegian weddings today look similar to those of the U.S. and other European countries. The typical bride wears a long white dress and her groom will have on a black tuxedo. After coming to America, many Swedish immigrants abandoned the wedding attire of their homeland in favor of the fashions that were popular there at the time. However, the first generation of Swedish-Americans often returned to the old traditions such as wearing the bridal crown. Bridal couples in Sweden today wear what we would consider traditional wedding attire: a white dress and tuxedos.
Are argument by Kurz and other researchers is debatable. The Nordic Statistical Yearbook shows that the number of marriages in the Nordic countries has increased since 1990, but with individual patterns and fluctuations among the different countries.
What exactly is a marriage?
One definition in the Webster dictionary is “an act, process, or instance of joining in close association.”
In Norwegian folklores and tradition we find wedding formulae that seem to be ancient, i.e., “He weds you to honor and to be the lady of the house, to half the bed and to locks and keys … under one blanket and one sheet.” Perhaps these words go far back in time.
People in Scandinavia today regard legal marriage as a serious step, but not more serious than having a loving, long-term relationship, or parenthood. “Marriage is a contract and symbolic commitment to remain together forever, said the unmarried model Maria Rhodin, when she was 27 and six-months pregnant. “At the same time, it is an expression of love. These ideals of stability, love and commitment haven’t gone out of style, even in progressive and liberal Scandinavia.”
“True love is still very popular as ideal, and people are getting married more now than they did years ago,” said Birthe Linddal Hansen, a researcher at the Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies. Love and relationships in Scandinavia are stronger than ever.
“The concept of a nuclear family is not disappearing, but changing. Marriage is no longer a precondition for settling a family – neither legally nor normatively. This can be illustrated by the fact that about 60 percent of all first-born children have parents who are unmarried and that a marriage certificate is no longer needed to be shown in order to get housing. In other words, what defines and makes the foundation of the Danish family can be said to have moved from marriage to parenthood,” wrote Mogens Nygaard Christoffersen at Danish National Social Research Institute.
Scandinavians seem, however, to be waiting longer to get married and waiting longer to get divorced. It’s quite normal to wait to get married until the couple is in their 30s, after having finished their studies.
To many Americans, this practice of waiting, even to have a child or two, before marrying seems strange. But there are many reasons for this. Longer education, career or the price of buying the first apartment are some of them in addition to the fact that weddings in Scandinavia have become increasingly elaborate and expensive. The high cost of church weddings is a major reason why the majority of couples in Denmark now choose a civil ceremony.
Influenced by practices in other parts of the world, wedding rituals in Scandinavia are continuously changing.
“Young women’s participation in global media consumption across different sites indicates that many of the ‘opportunities’ for young women appear to exist beyond the school in the reconfigured labor and leisure patterns of late modern culture,” write Mary Jane Kehilyand Anoop Nayak in their paper Global femininities: consumption, culture and the significance of place.
The fact that Scandinavia is a more secular society than America, that daycare is readily available to working parents, and that government policies actively encourage equality between the sexes all contribute to the widespread pattern if uncertified or delayed marriage. In Norway, for example, parents of infants 1 to 2 years old who do not use subsidized childcare, receive monthly tax-free payments until the child is 19 months amounted to NOK 6,000 (about 860 US dollars) per month.
This is also a reason to a very high female participation in the labor force.
The willingness to accept so-called “open unions” in the Scandinavia countries has existed for a very long time. In Scandinavia, where de facto unions are widespread, that partners also have rights and obligations concerning property, inheritance and maintenance payments following a separation.
The Finnish artist Heta Kucka says, “I have been there, done that. To me getting married just means finding someone to be with, and to be loved, and of course that is something that everyone wants.”
If you believe in the myth about “the Scandinavian sin”, we advise you to think twice.