The Third Sector in Europe
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The Third Sector in Europe

Edited by Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville

This book explores Europe’s third sector – the non-profit organisations and providers of social services such as mutuals, co-operatives, associations, voluntary organisations and charities: these elements of a civil society are important yet often overlooked features in contemporary socio-economics and social policy.
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Chapter 3: The development and future of the social economy in Sweden

Victor Pestoff


Victor Pestoff This chapter is the Swedish contribution to a collective effort to define and delimit the social economy in Europe. Sweden is the sole example of a country with a universal welfare state and a Social Democratic welfare state regime included in these efforts. As such it presents some unique features of the European social economy, including a large public sector, a strong etatist tradition and a weak but growing role for third sector providers of personal social services. However, it is sometimes wrongly assumed that Sweden lacks a thriving third sector: nothing could be farther from the truth. Ever since the days of de Tocqueville ([1832] 1996) and Bryce (1888), Americans have taken pride in themselves as a ‘nation of joiners’ (Key [1942] 1958; Truman [1951] 1971; Zetterberg, 1961; Lipset, 1963). However, by the 1970s, it became apparent that the highest levels of membership in voluntary associations were not found in North America, but in the Scandinavian/Nordic countries. A comparison of the results of diverse election studies in the 1960s and 1970s ranked Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Canada and Finland as the five countries with the greatest propensity to join voluntary associations, all well ahead of the United States (Pestoff, 1977, Table 6.1.A, p.65). Four-fifths of the Swedish electorate claimed one or more memberships in a voluntary association in 1971 (ibid.). In 2000, some 30 years later, nine out of ten Swedish adults claim one or more memberships, a slight decline of 2 per cent from eight years earlier...

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