Statistics Sweden has published its hundredth yearbook. Photo: Kavoos Akhtari/Radio Sweden

Mapping Sweden's century of radical change

"Things were much worse in the past"
2:50 min

Swedes live longer, marry later and drink less liquor compared to 100 years ago. And we send more text messages in 22 minutes than there were telegrams sent throughout 1914. These facts and more are included in the hundredth edition of Statistics Sweden's Yearbook, which looks at just how much Sweden has changed over the past century.

A lot has changed in Sweden in 100 years - and much to the better. Today, the average life expectancy is 25 years longer than back then. Eighty percent now live in cities, compared to 30 per cent in 1914. And the infant mortality rate has gone down radically.

Ulf Jorner, a historian and previous department head at Statistics Sweden, tells Radio Sweden he has little time for those who look at the past through rose-tinted glasses and speak of "the good old days".

"Judging from the statistics, things were much worse in the past," says Jorner. "Take infant mortality. When we started keeping statistics in Sweden, the infant mortality rate was 25 percent. Now that figure is way under one per cent. We have better health care and we are better off. I think it's hard to find anything that was better in the past," he says.

The most radical changes have come through the past century's rapid urbanisation.

"When we started recording statistics, half of all Swedes lived in the countryside and now around 80 per cent live in cities so that is a huge change," Jorner tells Radio Sweden.

In 1914, 2.4 million people earned their living from agriculture, cattle breeding and fishing. Today, that figure is 40,000 and the service sector dominates.

With texts, charts and diagrams, Statistics Sweden's hundredth yearbook  gives a graphic image of just how much Swedish society has transformed since 1914, when trains, rather than cars, were the most common mode of transport and telegrams, rather than text messages, were the most efficient mode of communication.

Swedes' social habits have changed, too. While liquor consumption has gone down, we drink a lot more wine these days - 24 litres per person and year, compared to half a litre in 1912. And the average marrying age has gone up by seven years. It's now 33 for women and 36 for men.

Migration patterns have also played a huge role in transforming Swedish society.

"In 1914, Sweden was still an emigrant country, even if the big emigration wave to the US had tailed off. We still have emigration, but we are an immigrant nation in a very different way now," Jorner explains.

Another thing that could change soon is the Statistics Sweden Yearbook itself. The hundredth edition could be the last to come out in print. In 2015, there may just be a digital version.

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