Crime For Members

IN STATS: How safe is Sweden in comparison to similar countries?

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
IN STATS: How safe is Sweden in comparison to similar countries?
How does Sweden place compared to other countries on violent crime and gun crime? Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Sweden's terror threat level was raised in August from a level 3 ('increased threat') to a level four ('high threat'). This has left people both in Sweden and abroad asking whether it is a safe country. How does Sweden compare to other similar countries?


How do you define safety?

Safety can refer to many things, from the presence of international or domestic conflicts, to political instability, to the number of police officers in a certain country.

The Institute for Economics and Peace, a global think tank dedicated to developing metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic benefits, is behind the Global Peace Index which ranks 163 countries yearly based on their levels of peace.

The index uses 23 different indicators to measure how peaceful a country is, with these indicators split into three different categories, covering ongoing domestic and international conflicts, societal safety and security and militarisation.

The first category looks at the number and duration of internal conflicts, the number of deaths from external organised conflict, the number of deaths from internal organised conflict, the number, duration and role in external conflicts and the intensity of organised internal conflict to investigate the extent to which countries are involved in external and internal conflicts, as well as their role and duration of involvement in conflicts.


The second, societal safety and security, looks at ten different criteria to evaluate the level of harmony or discord within a nation.

Some of these criteria refer to crime, such as the level of perceived criminality in society, the number of homicides per 100,000 people, the level of violent crime, the likelihood of violent demonstrations, the number of jailed population per 100,000 people and the number of internal security officers and police per 100,000 people.


It also includes political instability, the political terror scale, the impact of terrorism and the number of refugees and internally displaced people as a percentage of the population.

Finally, militarisation looks at military expenditure as a percentage of GDP, the number of armed services personnel per 100,000 people, weapon imports per 100,000 people, weapon exports per 100,000 people, financial contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities and ease of access to small arms and light weapons.

Where does Sweden place on this list?

Sweden placed 26 out of 163 countries in the 2022 peace index – on a scale where 1 is most peaceful and 163 is least peaceful – with the state of peace in the country placed in the second-highest category, "high".

It is below fellow Nordic countries Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Norway, who placed 1st, 4th, 14th and 17th, respectively.

When compared with other developed economies as defined by the UN, Sweden placed 22nd-best out of a total of 33, ahead of G7 countries France, Italy, the UK and the US, but behind Canada, Japan and Germany.

On the criterion "level of perceived criminality in society", Sweden placed in the highest category, "more peaceful" in 30th place, again behind all other Nordic countries but roughly the same as comparable countries such as the UK (33rd), the US (35th) and Canada (36th).

Sweden was ranked 2 out of 5 on "violent crime", with 1 being the best possible score and 5 being the worst. This was again behind the other Nordic countries who were all ranked 1, but in the same category as countries such as the UK, the US, Germany, France, Spain, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Sri Lanka, China, Chile and Cuba.

According to the data, Sweden had 1.61 homicides per 100,000 people in 2022, in 40th place of 163 countries, meaning there were 39 countries with fewer homicides per 100,000 people. Here, Sweden was in the middle of the Nordic countries, with Norway and Denmark recording fewer homicides (1.28 and 1.48 per 100,000 people respectively), and Iceland and Finland recording more (1.74 and 1.82, respectively).


What about terrorism?

According to the 2022 Global Terrorism Index (GTI), which is produced by the same think-tank as the Global Peace Index, the Institute for Economics and Peace, Sweden ranks 64 out of a total of 163 countries, with one being the worst possible ranking and 163 the best.

The GTI is a composite measure made up of four indicators: incidents, fatalities, injuries and hostages, and the score is determined by a five-year weighted average, so Sweden's figure for 2022 includes the Drottninggatan terror attack in April 2017 which killed 5 people and left 15 injured.

Sweden's overall score on the terrorism index is 2.31 out of 10, with 1 being the best possible score and 10 the worst.

Among the other Nordic countries, Sweden comes second after Norway, which ranked 49 out of 163 countries with a score of 3.51. In June 2022, two people were killed and 21 wounded in a mass shooting in Norway at a pub and gay bar associated with Oslo Pride.

Denmark placed 90 out of 163 countries with a score of 0.16, while Iceland and Finland recorded no impact of terrorism over the last five years.

Sweden had a better score and placing than than all G7 countries, with France in 34th place, Germany in 35th, the UK in 42nd, the US in 30th place, Canada in 54th place, Japan in 62nd place and Italy in 53rd place.

Other countries with roughly the same GTI score as Sweden include Austria (61st place), Spain (60th place), Saudi Arabia (63rd place), Switzerland (65th place), Ecuador (66th place) and the Netherlands (67th place).

Of course, this does not take into account recent events, for example Quran burnings, which led Sweden's authorities to raise the country's terror threat level from a three to a four in August 2023.

In neighbouring Denmark, which uses the same scale and has also had issues with Quran burnings, the terror threat level has been at a four for a number of years, although Denmark has had no terror incidents in the past five years. Norway, which has a terror threat level of three, has a higher GTI score.


What about gun crime?

The latest figures from a 2021 report from the Swedish national council for crime prevention (Brå), indicate that Sweden is the only European country where fatal shootings have risen significantly since 2000, with Sweden going from being a country with one of the lowest rates of gun violence in Europe to having one of the highest.

According to data from the Swedish police, Sweden reported roughly the same number of deadly shootings each year between 2017 and 2021: 43 in 2017, 45 in 2018, 42 in 2019, 47 in 2020 and 45 in 2021, or around 0.4-0.45 deadly shootings per 100,000 people in this time period.

For comparison, the average for Europe is approximately 0.16 gun related deaths per 100,000 inhabitants according to Brå.

The number of deadly shootings in Sweden leapt to 62 in 2022, giving a result of 0.65 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

The number of people wounded in shootings in Sweden in the same time period has steadily decreased: there were 139 people injured in shootings in 2017, 135 in 2018, 120 in 2019, 117 in 2020 and 115 in 2021.107 people were injured in shootings in 2022.

The number of shootings in total has increased over the same period. There were 324 shootings in 2017, 306 in 2018, 334 in 2019, 336 in 2020 and 344 in 2021. Last year also saw a major leap in the number of shootings, with a total of 391 for 2022. 

Statistic: Number of shootings in Sweden from 2017 to 2022 | Statista

Police figures on shootings in 2023 up until May 31st show that there were 144 total shootings, 18 deaths and 41 injuries, but this does not include the deadly shooting in Farsta on June 10th which killed two people and injured two more, or the non-deadly shootings in Solna and Jordbro the day before on June 9th.

It's difficult to find recent figures, but 2018 figures from the Small Arms Survey investigating gun-related deaths in the world's eight largest economies show that Sweden's figure of 0.65 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people in 2022 is relatively high when compared with similar countries.

Infographic: Firearm Deaths in the World's Largest Economies | Statista 

The US in 2018 had 3.77 gun-related deaths, followed by France on 0.5, India on 0.32, Italy on 0.3 and Germany on 0.14. The UK had 0.05 gun-related deaths in the same year, while China had 0.03 and Japan had 0.01.

Gun crime in Sweden, Brå stated in its 2021 report, is mainly concentrated to major cities, so-called vulnerable areas, and the open drug trade, and is more likely to affect young men, with women very rarely affected.


What about robberies?

According to Eurostat data from 2021, Sweden placed highest in the EU for recorded robberies, burglaries and thefts altogether per 100,000 inhabitants, with 3,557 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, or around one offence per 28 people.

Simply put, a robbery is a crime where an individual steals from another individual by force or by using the threat of force, which includes muggings or similar. A theft means property was stolen without using force, for example a bike theft, shoplifting or pickpocketing, and a burglary is a crime where an individual breaks into a property to steal something.

Fellow Nordic countries Denmark and Finland placed second and third behind Sweden in Eurostat's figures, with 2,677 and 2,392 offences per 100,000 inhabitants respectively. Norway had 1,482 offences per 100,000 inhabitants in the same year, while Iceland had 1,320, meaning that all the Nordic countries had a higher number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants than the EU average of 1,292.


Why are Sweden's figures so high? Eurostat writes that the differences among countries can be explained firstly by the level of crime, but also by different attitudes in reporting and recording crimes, especially minor ones.

It is important to note that these figures only represent the number of crimes which are actually reported to police, so it is difficult to make conclusions on the actual number of crimes which take place in each country. Sweden also has a high level of trust in its legal systems which means people in Sweden may be more likely to report a crime than residents of other countries.

Many insurance companies in Sweden also require a police report of a crime or theft before they can reimburse an individual for a stolen item, so it is possible that more people in Sweden report these crimes than in other countries, even if they don't expect that their item will be found or that the perpetrator will be caught.

The statistics also show that while Sweden places highest in both thefts and burglaries, which do not use violence, it places lower than Spain (112), Belgium (99), Luxembourg (94), France (83) and Portugal (77) on violent robberies.


So, is Sweden safe?

On a global level, Sweden is a relatively safe country, with a score of two or below for every indicator in the Global Peace Index apart from weapons exports, where it had a score of 3.8, and a better GTI score than most comparable countries.

When compared to other similar countries, such as the G7 countries and other countries in Europe, Sweden is about average, both on overall Global Peace Index score but also on specific categories such as the level of perceived criminality and the number of homicides per 100,000 people.

Sweden's level of gun crime is higher than in comparable countries – with the exception of the US – and is higher than the EU average.

According to the statistics, Sweden is by no means among the most dangerous countries in the world, or even the most dangerous in Europe on most indicators. Ultimately, however, whether you feel safe or not depends on many factors, including personal ones.


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