The Welfare State
The welfare state of Denmark is characterized as a socialist society. This means that the citizens are taken care of by the state of Denmark. This is done by Danes paying 50% of their salaries to pay for systems that appear free for all. In simplified terms, everyone contributes the same percentage to receive the same benefits. There are two major fields in which this is done, education and health care. Denmark provides schooling in all fields of study absolutely free. This schooling is provided from age seven, in what we would consider an elementary school. The schooling continues on to the equivalent of the American high school known as either gymnasium or a training school, depending on oneís career goals. The free schooling even includes the studentís attendance at a university. The health care in Denmark is also provided free of charge in all areas. Once an individual is in the country for six weeks they are automatically allowed free health care.
Education and Day Care System
I learned of the Danish education and day care system on a field study headed by Kim Nielsen, a Danish International Studies professor. The state of Denmark supports individuals in their country from the time before they are born. They do this by providing a mother-to-be with a maternity leave beginning 4 weeks before the baby is due. After the baby is born, the mother has 26 weeks of full-paid maternity leave. After this time, the mother can receive an additional 2 months of maternity leave with half pay. The father of the newborn can receive 2 weeks maternity leave. If the mother has a very demanding job and must get back to work she can do this and give half of her maternity leave to the father of the child.
In theory, by the time the child mis 6 months old, the child should be able to get into a daycare center. The daycare centers in Denmark are called kindergartens. Each different region creates specific rules, rates, and deals for the given kindergarten. The kindergartens, that I viewed, are set up to be able to take care children from infancy up through the age of seven. Kindergartens are usually open year round. Their hours vary, but can range from opening at 8:00 AM and closing at 5:00 PM to opening at 7:00 AM and closing at 10:00 PM. Parents do have to pay for their children to be taken care of at these centers. The kindergarten can be expensive for a family. For this reason, Denmark provides families with money to help support their children. An example of this child benefit is that a single parent and parents who both receive pensions are given DKK 1,100 per quarter year. For each additional child DKK 840 per quarter is given to the single parent with whom the child is living (Bgtrykkeri 25). This amount also changes depending on the ages of the children, the number of children a couple has, if there are twins or other groupings of children (i.e. triplet, etc.), if the parents are married and if not do they live together as a family so that both parents are not supporting the children. This money does not have a specific purpose other than supporting the child. This amount of money is not enough to fully pay for the kindergarten, therefore occasionally local municipalities contribute money to bring down the cost of the kindergarten. This is illegal, but needed sometimes. The Danes feel good about taking social aid. They feel that it is their right.
In a kindergarten, a child may begin to receive an informal education at the early age of three. There is a 1 to 10 ratio of care takers to children. At this age the children are directed in their behavioral patterns to learn proper behavior. They are also taught the alphabet and their numbers by this age. One of the important factors in a kindergarten is the atmosphere that is being presented.
Children begin formal education at the age of seven. The children begin at this age by taking four classes or lessons, each lasting 45 minutes. These lessons are usually made up of math, art, music, physical education, and once a week religion. The children are given 10 minute breaks between each lesson and they have a 25 minute lunch time. A normal day begins around 8:15AM.
Whenever the child finishes the dayís classes, he gets himself over to the daycare center for older children. This is called the fritids hjem or free time home. The free time home is usually located very close to the school for the convenience of having the children walk over to it on their own (Villadsen). These free time homes vary from just a play center for the children to an elaborate structure where children from age seven to early twenties can spend time. One such center, that I visited, consisted of two large recreational rooms with board games and a pool table and a farm area where children could adopt a pet to take care of to see if they would want the full responsibility of owning a pet. This center also housed clubs that had members ranging from ages 10 to 16 and occasionally as old as 26. In one of the building there was also a room where bands could reserve a time to rehearse and use the equipment of the center. Even with centers such as these for children and teens to spend their time, Denmark still has some crime and disruption.
As the child grows older and progresses in school more classes are introduced. By the third year of the formal education geography, science and biology have been introduced. In the fourth year English is introduced. In the fifth year the student has the choice of taking either German or French. This decision only matters temporarily, though, because by the seventh year the student is taking the other language as well as physics.
This schooling lasts through nine years of classes. Throughout these nine years, tests are not given and there are no grades. The student must learn to accomplish the work they are given through self-determination. Parents, generally do not force children to do their assignments. Parents do, however, express their feelings in different ways, one way being guilt trips. This may be done by a parent saying "Thatís a pity" to express their sorrow that the child will not get very far in life because the child is not doing his work.
In the ninth year of classes, the entire state of Denmark, takes the School Living Exam. This exam consists of written Danish and math. It also has an oral section consisting of physics, German, English, Danish, and math. This exam takes about two hours. Due to so many oral sections, some parts may be administered in groups. Depending on oneís scores and maturity level, one may be able to proceed to the gymnasium, the equivalent to our high school, at this time. Even if an individual has scored well on the School Living Exam, the final decision to be passed on to the gymnasium is based on oneís maturity. This is because the success of an individual in the gymnasium is a result of oneís own self discipline to succeed. If an individual is not passed on to the gymnasium, he will continue on in a tenth year of classes. This individual would then be required to take a harder exam than the School Living Exam. Based on the result the individualís result he may go on to the gymnasium as 30 to 40% of the Danes do or the individual may go to a trade or specialized school. Examples of these trade or specialized schools would include bricklaying, electricians, and business.
Individuals that go to private schools are still required to go through the same exams as other Danes. An individual may go to a private school for religion or political reasons. One may also go to a private school for better discipline or for its reputation as a brighter school. These private school are still partially paid for by the government. The government may pay for as much as 70 to 80% of the schoolís cost.
In the gymnasium, a school day begins at 8:10 and runs until 2:30. The students are accustomed to receiving a few hours of homework a night. They are also familiar with the act of writing papers occupying their weekends. Classes are given in a block system where double lessons are given twice a week. The school year runs from August 7 till the end of May. Exams are usually given once a week, a big change from having no exams in the primary school years. Once in the gymnasium, a student must choose to either pursue a science track or a literature and arts track. With in these tracks there is no room for deviation from the set course of study.
Due to the way in which the Danish school system is set up, a youngster must determine their future goals at the age of 16, at the latest. This is because at the age of 16 a student has completed their ninth year of schooling. This is the first chance of making a decision on future schooling which would direct their future careers. I was informed that most children make decisions on their future goals by the age of 14. By doing this they can be preparing properly for their School Living Exam, if need be. In my opinion, deciding on future goals may be easy for the Danes because of the equality that exists in all jobs. There is no particular field in which an individual may prosper better in; in other words it is actually very difficult to become wealthy in Denmark.
Denmark has a national health care that allows individuals who have been in the country for as little as six weeks completely free medical care. This is possible in Denmark because the Danes pay 50% of their income in taxes to support this economic system.
There is a process which an individual must follow in the health care system. The first step that must be followed is going to a general practitioner. This is a doctor that is not specialized in any one area. Individuals have the right to choose their own general practitioner, but if one changes to a different general practitioner the individual must notify and pay a fee to the states. There is usually a few days wait to see a general practitioner due to the idea that individuals have to go see this doctor for any medical problem. The only time that this step can be bypassed is if the medical situation is an emergency room. If the hospital does not view the situation as an emergency, the patient will be sent to his general practitioner.
Once the individual has been to the general practitioner, if the medical situation cannot be treated by the general practitioner then the patient will receive written permission to see a specialist or be admitted into the hospital. Once the patient has moved on to see a specialist or been admitted into the hospital the general practitioner is completely out of the picture.
On our site visit to a local hospital, Janis Granger, an academic advisor at Denmarkís International Study Program came along and used a personal story to explain the extent of the health care system in Denmark. The year before, Janis had been suffering from many stomach pains. She went to her general practitioner who continuously misdiagnosed the problem. As the stomach pains persisted, Janisí doctor got more concerned and admitted her into the hospital for testing. While there, it was discovered the Janis was suffering from acute appendicitis. She remained in the hospital for six weeks undergoing two operations. After Janisí treatment was completed at the hospital, Denmarkís national health care paid to have Janis rehabilitated in Southern Spain. This was necessary because Janis had lost a lot of muscles in her body while in the hospital for so long. Janis was flown to Spain for her rehabilitation because it was cheaper to have her treated there then to have her stay in Denmark for the rehabilitation. All of the treatments and rehabilitation was covered by Denmarkís national health care.
I believe that there are problems with Denmarkís health care system, from what I learned at the Amtssygehuset I Herlev Hospital. The first evident problem is that there is a very limited area for expansion, more money would be needed. The idea of needing more money creates a problem because this would have to be done through taxes. With taxes already as high as 50% of oneís income, this plan of raising taxes isnít very realistic. The other possible solution to expand for new programs, would be to cut already existing programs. This is very difficult because most programs are utilized fully. Most programs even have a waiting list for services. The waiting list that exist in many areas of the health care system represent another major problem. The first mandatory step of seeing oneís general practitioner, at the least, takes a few days. Then there are waits to see specialists and to get into the hospital, not to mention waits for operations and transplants. If the health care system were more free with which doctor an individual could see and when, Janisí problem may have been discovered earlier in the sickness. She would have been able to get a second opinion or she could have gone to a specialist right away, but as the "rules" stand, she had to continue seeing the general practitioner. The last problem that I learned of regarded the states view of the elderly. Treatment of the elderly is not seen as a priority. For example, if an organ becomes available and it can go to a 40 year old or an 80 year old, the decision is made for the 40 year old. This is because the 40 year old still has years to help contribute to the gross national product, where as the 80 year old would not benefit Denmark by receiving the organ.
By looking at education and health care in the welfare state, I think many benefits are visible. The benefits, that I see, are that each individual, children and adults alike, are taken care of alike. As I view the system, I also see many drawbacks. I think this society does a good job at taking care of its children, but may be harming the rest of the society. No incentives exist to encourage individuals to excel at anything. This is because the society does not allow individuals to disrupt the equality that exists. Another major harm to the society that I see occurring in the fact that there is unequal care given to the elderly in the health care system. This is for the simple reason of them not being able to contribute to the gross national product. Due to the drawbacks that I have viewed, I feel that movements in our society towards a similar society as in the welfare state would be based on bad decisions. This would include a national health care system and higher taxation for any similar programs.
"We have created an unsustainable welfare state" - Anders Uhrskov
-Statement based on the fact that Denmark cannot raise taxes when they are in need of money.
Bgtrykkeri, Jelling. Denmark National Report World Summit for Social Development.
Copenhagen: Ministry of Social Affairs, 1995.
Granger, Janis. Personal Interview. 6 January 1997.
Hansen, Linda. Personal Interview. 12 January 1997.
Janson, Ilze. Personal Interview. 19 April 1997.
Nielsen, Kim. Personal Interview. 13 January 1997.
Nye, David E. Denmark and the Danes. Denmark: Udgivervirsomheden, 1995.
Uhrskov, Anders. Personal Interview. 14 January 1997.
Villadsen, Jesper. Personal Interview. 20 January 1997.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.