Union Density in Norway and Sweden: Stability versus Decline





Labor Market Institutions & Social Partners


The aim is to explain why union density is not only considerably higher in the Ghent country Sweden than in non-Ghent Norway but also why it has declined much more in Sweden, in particular among blue-collar workers. We show how changes to Swedish unemployment insurance in 2007–2013 were followed by a decline in union density and how white-collar unions were more successful than blue-collar unions in developing supplementary income insurance schemes that counteracted membership losses. This type of institutional explanation is nevertheless insufficient. In Norway, too, blue-collar density has decreased while white-collar workers have maintained their density rate. Norwegian data further show that even without unemployment insurance funds, it is possible to achieve a fairly high union density at workplaces with collective agreements. However, without unemployment benefits like we find in Sweden, it is increasingly challenging to establish an institutional foundation for a social custom of unionization.

Author Biographies

Anders Kjellberg, Lund University

Professor of Sociology

Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research

Researcher. E-mail: kne@fafo.no


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How to Cite

Kjellberg, A., & Nergaard, K. (2022). Union Density in Norway and Sweden: Stability versus Decline. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 12(S8). https://doi.org/10.18291/njwls.131697