Finland - Poverty and wealth

In states with a high level of income equality and widely used welfare programs, class is difficult to identify. In Finland to some extent, it is more meaningful to look at regional or urban-rural differences. During the

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Finland 17,608 19,925 22,347 25,957 28,075
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
Sweden 21,157 22,283 24,168 26,397 27,705
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

1960s Finland experienced one of the fastest rates of rural depopulation in the western industrialized nations. Over 10 years, 600,000 people were added to the urban population, and the urbanization rate (the rate of increase of the proportion of people living in urban areas) increased from 38.4 percent in 1960 to 50.9 percent in 1970. This uneven distribution of the population has interfered with the development of infrastructure and the provision of services, and it has made the costs of services in rural and small communities much higher.

The recession of the early 1990s led to some cutbacks in Finnish social programs. On the whole, health care and housing allowances were not diminished, but unemployment pensions, spouses' pensions, conscripts' allowances, disability benefits, refunds of medical examinations, and child-care allowances were reduced.

The poorest and most marginal members of the population tended to suffer more immediately as they had the least ability to influence those making the cutbacks. Yet in the longer term, cutbacks increasingly focused on larger programs that affected more of the population, which often made the government instituting the cutbacks less popular. Public services whose employees were numerous and well organized, such as the medical profession and trade union-dominated jobs, tended to be cut the least.

The urban-rural divide is simultaneously a regional divide, with urban areas heavily concentrated in the

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Finland
Lowest 10% 4.2
Lowest 20% 10.0
Second 20% 14.2
Third 20% 17.6
Fourth 20% 22.3
Highest 20% 35.8
Highest 10% 21.6
Survey year: 1991
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

southern regions. In the south of Finland, overcrowding has sometimes hurt both the environment and access to social services (mostly creating waiting lists for non-emergency care), while the declining population in already sparsely inhabited areas makes it difficult to maintain even the existing economic and service facilities. However, the typical Scandinavian emphasis on social equality has ensured that nearly all inhabitants of Finland are not in a condition identifiable as poverty in terms of access to health, education, and sanitation.

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