Why Swedish kids do better

Not Sweden again! For whatever social issue we can think of, it seems that Sweden, and Scandinavia in general, do it differently. Though, with Sweden’s unusual approach to COVID-19 in 2020, some of the traditional gloss may have worn off, when it comes to family life after a separation or divorce, the research is clear: Swedish kids are better-off.

According to recent Swedish research, Joint Physical Custody (JPC) has become as common, in Sweden, as living mostly with the mother after parents separate. The proportion of Swedish children in JPC was about 1% of children with separated parents in the mid-1980s, but is now between 35% and 40%. Of all children between 12 and 15 years of age, 1 in 10 are in JPC (Bergström et al., 2013; Swedish Government Official Report, 2011). Indeed, for 3-year-old children, JPC is nearly twice as common as SPC, at least among Swedish-born and well-educated parents (Bergström et al., 2018). When Swedish parents separate, they also tend to live in nearby neighborhoods so that the distance between their homes is relatively short (Turunen, 2017).

Joint physical custody refers to children living alternatively and about equally with both parents after a parental separation or divorce. The practice has been debated in relation to child well-being because of the frequent moves imposed on children and the potential stress from living in 2 homes. This study describes the background to the high frequency of Swedish children in JPC and the results from research on Swedish children’s well-being in this living arrangement. Children in JPC report better well-being and mental health than children who live mostly or only with 1 parent. No Swedish studies have found children’s health to be worse in JPC than in sole parental care from child age of 3 years and beyond.