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Sweden: The small country topping global development rankings

Sweden is a small Scandinavian country with a population of just over ten million. You may have heard of Sweden in association with things such as the Nobel Prize, Spotify and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. For being such a small country, Sweden has quite a strong international presence. Half the pop songs you listen to are likely to be written by a Swedish person. And if you’ve shopped at H&M or Ikea, then you have already bought something from a Swedish company.

Aside from its dominance in the music industry and the incredible international success of Swedish companies and start-ups, Sweden has a good reputation and is well known internationally for many other reasons too. The small country outperforms much of the world in many key development areas. Here are just some of them:


Sweden is considered a world leader in sustainability and is consistently ranked as one of the most sustainable countries in the world. A reason for this is the Swedish government's commitment to achieving highly ambitious sustainability goals. By 2030, it wants the Swedish transport sector to be completely fossil free and, by 2045, the goal is for Sweden to be fully climate-neutral. Sweden's great performance in global sustainability surveys shows that the country is well underway to achieve these goals. It is not just political green-washing.

For the past decade, Sweden has been at the top of the internationally recognized Environmental Performance Index. The EPI measures multiple environmental sustainability indicators, such as air quality, waste management and pollution, in 180 countries. Sweden is currently ranked 8th on the EPI, with remarkably clean air and water.

Sweden has some of the cleanest air and water in the world, with remarkably low pollution levels.

Sustainability goes beyond environmental performance, however. Social and governance factors, as well as environmental measures, must be considered to get a more complete picture of how a country is performing in terms of sustainable development. When social and governance factors are considered, Sweden is at the very top.

The Global Sustainability Competitiveness Index, considered one of the most comprehensive assessments of sustainable development available, measures more than 130 performance indicators across five categories - natural capital, social capital, resource efficiency and intensity, intellectual capital and innovation, and governance efficiency. All these factors are taken into account to give a sustainable competitiveness score out of 100.

Although no country in the world is fully sustainable as of yet, Sweden ranked at the top of the GSCI in 2021 with a performance well above the world average. Sweden currently has a score of 61.2 while the global average is 45. There remains work to be done, but Sweden is ahead of the game when it comes to achieving full sustainable competitiveness.


When it comes to innovation, Sweden is just as impressive as it is in the sustainability field. The country is considered one of the most innovative countries in the world, particularly in fields like sustainable technology, life sciences, healthcare, digitalization, and automation. The small nation consistently ranks at the top of global innovation surveys.

In 2021, Sweden was ranked, for the third year in a row, as the second most innovative country in the world by the Global Innovation Index. The index measures innovation performance by assessing things such as investment in innovation, scientific output, and R&D expenditure in more than 130 countries.

Within the EU, Sweden continues to be the most innovative country. Last year, for the sixth consecutive year, it topped the European Innovation Scoreboard. The EIS assesses the strengths and weaknesses of national innovation systems. Amongst other things, it measures indicators such as level of digitalization, environmental sustainability, and R&D expenditure in the business sector - an area where Sweden dominates.

Sweden is hard to beat when it comes to research and innovation. The country has great opportunities for funding and public-private partnerships.

The business sector in Sweden is one of the most innovative in the world for many reasons. One is the availability of both private and public funding for research. Another is a business culture that is highly dynamic, open and egalitarian. Ideas are able to flow freely within and between companies and this creates a healthy and inspiring environment for innovation and co-creation.

To learn more about how Sweden has managed to become such an innovative country, click here.

Standards of Living and Wellbeing:

Sweden has some of the highest standards of living in the world. In the OECD Better Life Index, Sweden ranks above the global average in all dimensions of wellbeing measured. These include housing, income, employment, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance. Particularly in terms of employment, environment, and civic participation, Sweden scores well above the OECD average.

Sweden offers some of the highest standards of living in the world, with an incredible level of work-life balance and life satisfaction.

Employment wise, 77% of people aged 15-64 are currently employed in Sweden, compared to the 68% employment average of the OECD.

In terms of the environment, Sweden is hard to beat. The country can boast of some of the best air quality in the world. The level of atmospheric pollution is 6.2 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter. In comparison, the OECD average is 13.9 micrograms per cubic meter.

Civic participation is also remarkably high in Sweden. During recent elections, voter turnout was 86%, compared to the OECD average of 68%. This is an indication of Swedish people’s trust in their institutions and democratic processes.

It is also worth mentioning Sweden’s performance in the UN Human Development Index. The HDI goes beyond just economic indicators of development and measures people’s access to opportunities and level of choice in society. Sweden is also at the top of this survey. It is currently ranked in the top ten along with countries like Germany, Switzerland and Norway.


Safety is considered a measure of wellbeing so it could be included in the previous section, but Sweden is such a safe country that it deserves its own section. Safety in Sweden is such that women have the freedom to walk around any time of day and night without fear. Children can also be very independent, and it is very common to see them by themselves moving around cities and on public transport.

The Global Peace Index, which measures the degree of peace in a country by analyzing the level of societal safety and security, the extent of ongoing domestic and international conflict, and the degree of militarisation, ranks Sweden as one of the safest countries in the world. With extremely low levels of violent crime and internal conflict, and very high political stability, in Sweden the most you have to worry about is petty crime.

Gender Equality:

Lastly, it is worth honing in on the level of gender equality in Sweden. It is a particular focus of the Swedish government, which aims to ensure that men and women have the same opportunities, rights and responsibilities in all areas of life. Although no country in the world has achieved full gender equality, Sweden performs very well in this area.

For starters, 47% of the members of the Swedish national parliament are women. World Bank data shows that the EU average for the proportion of women in national parliaments is only 32%. The North American average is even lower at 28%. Furthermore, the current Prime Minister of Sweden is also a woman, along with more than half of the 23 government ministers. What this means is that women in Sweden really do have political representation and that national policy is, to a large extent, shaped by women for women.

Sweden also outperforms much of the world in terms of progress regarding the gender pay-gap. The latest statistics from the Swedish National Mediation Office show that women in Sweden on average earn 90.2% of what men do. In the OECD as whole, women’s average incomes are 86.5% of men’s.

Political representation and greater wage parity are only two reasons why Sweden was ranked as the fourth most gender equal country in the world in the latest Global Gender Gap Report.

Another reason Sweden ranks so highly is the high participation of women in the labor force. In Sweden, 81% of women are currently in the labor market compared to an average of around 70% in Western Europe. Sweden also has a greater proportion of women who are managers (36%) or board members (38%) in the business sector than many other places.

Sweden is further along the path to gender equality than many other countries, with a greater proportion of women in leadership positions across society.

In Sweden, women’s representation and participation goes beyond politics and is spreading in other areas of society.


Global rankings aren’t everything. There is a lot more to a country than what can be shown through surveys and data. However, Sweden’s consistently high performance across various key development areas does show the country’s commitment to progress. Sweden is a country that does not stop pushing to make human life better.

If you are looking for a country that supports your own development and wellbeing, as well as that of society, Sweden should be on your list. Apply today to discover all the exciting work taking place in Sweden to improve human society and individual life.

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1 Comment

Håkan Rolin
Håkan Rolin
May 20, 2022

Great description of Sweden! For sure it is a great country to work and live in and I would recommend it to anyone. However, still a lot to be done. We need to use our innovative ability to find better solutions for sustainability and even more improve our lives. Innovations tend to become even better if you work with a diverse team of gender and cultural background. These are all areas that Together Tech as a company focuses on :)

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