Education doesn’t always pay in Sweden: study

Half of Swedish graduates would earn more in their lifetime if they instead started work straight after high school, a new study shows.

Education doesn’t always pay in Sweden: study
Nurses are paid less than a lot of non-college graduates. Photo: Bertil Ericsson/TT

Public sector workers like teachers, librarians, nurses and social workers all earn less money on average over time than Swedes who did not go to college after graduating from gymnasiet, upper level high school. 

“Typically female-dominated professions,” noted Göran Arrius, chairman of Saco, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations, which carried out the study. 

The situation has worsened over the years, the study finds, as increasing numbers of college graduates would be better off financially if they went straight to the labour market after high school.

A college graduate earns an average of around 19 million kronor ($2.15 million) before retirement, compared to 16.4 million kronor for other workers. 

The relatively meagre financial benefits offered by a college education puts Sweden way down a list of developed countries, according to Arrius. 

The worst paid jobs for graduates are characterised by narrow pay bands, said the Saco chairman, who would like to see workers in these professions given more opportunities to negotiate higher wages. 

College degrees that earn graduates more than the average 16.4 million kronor:

Medicine, +8.9 million kronor

Law, +7.3

Economics, +7.2

Civil engineering, +5.9

Dentistry, +3.1

Veterinary, +2.0

Psychology, +1.1

College degrees that earn graduates less than the average 16.4 million kronor:

Preschool teaching, -1.8 million kronor 

Art, -1.7

Librarian, -1.4

Primary and lower high school teaching, -1.1

Social care, -0.8

Nursing, -0-4

Social services, -0.2



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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”