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Denmark: Balancing Job, Family & Hygge

Denmark, the small Scandinavian country which is so often overlooked, is a major player when it comes to work-life balance, family well-being, and the cost of education. While this might seem less spectacular than their Viking heritage, it is a reason why Danes are exceptionally happy people.
Nearly two-thirds of expats in Denmark consider it to be perfect for their kids’ health and safety.

When people think of Denmark, they might think of Vikings, sailing the seven seas, their blonde hair flowing in the wind. Or they think of the long Scandinavian summer days and the cold winters, of understated design and delicious, Nordic food. But did you know that, above all of this, Denmark is one of the best countries to settle down in with your family? In terms of work-life balance, the little nation ranked among the top three in our Expat Insider 2014 survey. When it comes to family well-being, it even made it to first place and beat Sweden by two positions.

The Work-Life Balance in Denmark

For Danes and for expats in Denmark, a good work-life balance means being able to prioritize between their family life and their career. Making it possible to not let one outweigh the other lets both expats and locals lead a happier, healthier life.

Denmark’s welfare model, its flexible working conditions, and a minimum of five weeks’ paid holiday per year make all of this possible. In fact, the Danish labor market is often described as a “flexicurity” model. It  encourages a high adaptability among employers and employees, while offering a high amount of job security.

The generous parental leave (52 weeks) and the wide availability of childcare facilities is also a reason for Denmark’s excellent work-life balance. In fact, the government guarantees full-time daycare to all children up to the age of six at a cost which is directly related to the parents’ income. Thus, many mothers return to work full-time after their parental leave.

The Cost of Living in Denmark

However, the country’s highly praised welfare system comes at a price. In our survey, close to three in five respondents in Denmark were unhappy with the local cost of living; nearly double the global average. Similarly, compared to overall results, a much smaller percentage of expats in Denmark agreed that housing was affordable (34% vs. 50% globally). It is thus hardly surprising that Denmark only ranked 53rd out of 61 countries in our (reverse) Cost of Living Index.

Nevertheless, expatriates there are not too badly off when it comes to their finances as a whole. The majority of expats in Denmark said they earn more than they would back home, enabling them to meet the higher cost of living.

Quality and Cost of Education

Regardless of income, though, it is quite common to send one’s children to state-run schools. Primary and lower secondary education is free of charge, giving the Danish school system a great cost-benefit ratio. Moreover, the country has introduced measures in 2004 to reduce inequality and help children and young adults with future education and career opportunities.

There is also a program which helps children participate in recreation, sports and cultural activities, called the activity green card. All in all, 23 municipalities participate in this program granting children and young adults access to music education, leisure activities, scout associations, etc.

Children are very well taken care of in Denmark, have a lot of options to keep themselves busy after school, and the government supports families with a lower than average income. But there might be even more to the happiness of families in Denmark.

Hygge and Happiness

Hygge, an untranslatable, yet typically Danish concept has a big influence on the Danes’ happiness. The word describes a feeling of coziness and contentment, yet it means so much more. It can refer to the warm glow of candlelight, to quality time with family and friends, and to sitting around a table discussing the things that make life worthwhile.

It might not come as a surprise that Christmas is a high time for hygge. The Danes have learned to battle the sadness of the dark season with lots of candles and lighting, as well as gløgg, the mulled wine typical for the season. But even in summer, hygge is a widely celebrated phenomenon and probably one of the reasons why the Danes are among the happiest people in the world: bike rides, open air concerts, street festivals, barbecues and picnics can all be a source of hygge and happiness.

There is one thing that does dampen the mood of expats in Denmark, though. Danes seem to be slow to warm up to strangers: less than a quarter of survey respondents found making friends with locals easy and one in ten expats was not feeling at home in the local culture at all. Expat blogger Amy in Copenhagen has also experienced this: “Expect it to be tough to penetrate the inner circles of Danish society. They probably made their close friends in high school and, while they'll be friendly to you on the street or at parties, they won't want to make friends for life. It takes time, so try to learn the language, meet as many different people as you can, and don't take their abruptness to heart.”

Jürgen Hofmeister

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Sarah Porter

"InterNations expats let me see that there's much more to Copenhagen than clichés like The Little Mermaid and Tivoli..."

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