Cohort Differences in Swedish Union Membership 1956–2019 and the Role of Individualization




Identity, Meaning & Culture, Labor Market Institutions & Social Partners


Discussions of the role of cohort differences have long been part of academic research on union membership, with a central hypothesis being that the general decline in unionization is caused by changes toward more individualistic values in the younger generations. However, the short time span of most studies makes it uncertain if they can separate cohort effects from age effects. Using survey data going back to 1956, we test the individualization hypothesis. Our main result is that later Swedish cohorts are indeed less prone to join unions. In particular, the differences between cohorts born before and after ca 1970 are striking. We also provide evidence that the erosion in union membership in Sweden is not related to changes toward more individualistic values in later cohorts, or even to more negative views of unions per se.

Author Biographies

Erik Vestin

Independent researcher. E-mail:

Patrik Vulkan, University of Gothenburg

Senior Lecturer, Department of Sociology and Work Science


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How to Cite

Vestin, E., & Vulkan, P. (2021). Cohort Differences in Swedish Union Membership 1956–2019 and the Role of Individualization. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies.