Union Density in Norway and Sweden: Stability versus Decline

Anders Kjellberg, Kristine Nergaard

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-72
Number of pages22
JournalNordic Journal of Working Life Studies
Issue number58
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Feb 23

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology (excluding Social Work, Social Psychology and Social Anthropology)

Free keywords

  • union density
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • trade union
  • unemployment insurance
  • a-kassa
  • income insurance
  • blue-collar worker
  • white-collar worker
  • Nordic model
  • Swedish model
  • Ghent system
  • foreign-born
  • domestic-born
  • LO
  • TCO
  • Saco
  • Unionen
  • IF Metall
  • unionization
  • Fafo
  • Sociology
  • industrial relations
  • Ghent effect
  • collective agreement
  • collective bargaining
  • employers' association


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