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Egalitarian cultural values motivate a strong welfare state and high levels of volunteerism in Finland

Half of the Finnish population gives their time freely and without financial reward to other people or a cause annually. Henrietta Grönlund discusses why.

Finland scores high in volunteerism. According to a study published in 2018 by Citizen-Forum, half of the population give their time freely and without financial reward to other people or a cause annually. This is good news, as volunteering increases happiness, wellbeing and trust in others. In the big picture, it also decreases public spending and upholds democratic values. Finns’ high level of activity may be surprising to some – should the Nordic welfare model not decrease the need and motivation for volunteerism as public services take care of many needs (and people already participate in welfare by paying relatively high taxes)?

No. This so-called crowding-out hypothesis does not hold in Finland.

Welfare models do influence the needs, norms and motives for volunteering in different countries. Finns are proud of and fervently support their strong welfare state, and explicitly resist the idea of philanthropy or volunteering becoming too central in basic services. Consequently, a big part of it takes place in fields such as advocacy and recreation, and in welfare volunteering usually complements – instead of substituting – basic services.

Thus, the Nordic welfare state and volunteerism do not crowd each other out. Rather, they can be viewed as two complementing outcomes, which support each other and stem from same root of Finnish cultural values. Cultural values are implicitly or explicitly shared abstract ideas about what is good, right and desirable in a society. Finnish cultural values are distinctively egalitarian: equality, social justice, freedom, responsibility, honesty and voluntary commitment to promoting the welfare of others are central. These values motivate both the Nordic welfare model of strong public services and volunteering. And at the same time, the Nordic welfare state and volunteering also reproduce and strengthen the values they both stem from.

“The Nordic welfare state and volunteerism do not crowd each other out.”

Voluntary civic engagement influenced the building of the comprehensive welfare model, and continues to uphold it. Strong public services give individuals the opportunity to participate in volunteering and other civic activities, as their time and other resources are not tied to covering themselves and their loved ones. This is especially central in terms of gender equality, as also women have resources to participate in societal activities. And, of course, Finland’s pioneering role in gender equality stems from the very same egalitarian cultural values.

Photo: Veikko Somerpuro

Henrietta Grönlund
University Lecturer of Urban Theology at the Faculty of Theology, University of Helsinki