views updated May 14 2018


[For the early history of occultism in Scandinavia, see the entry on the Teutons. ]


In medieval times, Scandinavian examples of the witchcraft persecutions that arose in much of Europe were rare, but in 1669-70 a great outbreak against witchcraft commenced in Sweden, in the villages of Mohra and Elfdale in the district of Elfdale. In 1669 a strange report was circulated that the children of the neighborhood were carried away nightly to a place they called Blockula, where they were received by Satan in person. The children themselves, who were responsible for the report, pointed out numerous women, who, they said, were witches and carried them there.

The alarm and terror in the district became so great that a report was at last made to King Charles XI, who nominated commissioners, partly clergy and partly laymen, to inquire into the extraordinary circumstances that had been brought to his notice. These commissioners arrived in Mohra and announced their intention of opening proceedings on August 13, 1670.

One day preceding, the commissioners met at the parson-age-house and heard the complaints of the minister and several people of the upper class, who told them of the miserable condition they were in. They gravely told the commissioners that by the help of witches, hundreds of their children had been drawn to Satan, who had been seen to go in a visible shape through the country and to appear daily to the people. They said that the poorer people had been seduced by him feasting them with meat and drink.

The commissioners entered upon their duties the next day with the utmost diligence, and the result of their misguided zeal formed one of the most remarkable examples of cruel and remorseless persecution that stains the annals of sorcery. No fewer than 70 inhabitants of the village and district of Mohra, 23 of whom made confessions, were condemned and executed. One woman pleaded that she was with child, and many denied their guilt, but they were sent to Fahluna, where most of them were put to death.

Among those who suffered death were 15 children, and 36 more, of different ages between nine and sixteen, were forced to run a gauntlet and be scourged on the hands at the church door every Sunday for one year. Twenty more, who had been drawn into these practices more unwillingly, and were very young, were condemned to be scourged with rods upon their hands for three successive Sundays at the church door. Some 300 children were accused in all.

It appears that the commissioners began by taking the confessions of the children, and then they confronted them with the witches, whom the children accused as their seducers. Most of the latter, to use the words of the authorized report, had " children with them, which they had either seduced or attempted to seduce, some seven years of age, nay, from four to sixteen years."

"Some of the children complained lamentably of the misery and mischief they were forced sometimes to suffer of the devil and the witches." Being asked, if they were sure that they were at any time carried away by the devil, they all replied in the affirmative. "Hereupon the witches themselves were asked, whether the confessions of those children were true, and admonished to confess the truth, that they might turn away from the devil unto the living God." One account noted,

"At first, most of them did very stiffly, and without shedding the least tear, deny it, though much against their will and inclination. After this the children were examined every one by themselves, to see whether their confessions did agree or no, and the commissioners found that all of them, except some very little ones, which could not tell all the circumstances, did punctually agree in their confessions of particulars.

"In the meanwhile, the commissioners that were of the clergy examined the witches, but could not bring them to any confession, all continuing steadfast in their denials, till at last some of them burst into tears, and their confession agreed with what the children said; and these expressed their abhorrence of the fact, and begged pardon. Adding that the devil, whom they called Locyta, had stopped the mouths of some of them, so loath was he to part with his prey, and had stopped the ears of others. And being now gone from them, they could no longer conceal it; for they had now perceived his treachery."

The witches asserted that the journey to "Blockula" was not always made with the same kind of conveyance. They commonly used humans, animals, and even spits and posts, according to opportunity. They preferred, however, riding upon goats, and if they had more children with them than the animal could conveniently carry, they elongated its back by means of a spit annointed with their magical ointment.

It was further stated that if the children did at any time name the names of those, either man or woman, that had been with them and had carried them away, they were again carried by force, either to "Blockula" or the crossway, and there beaten, insomuch that some of them died of it, "and this some of the witches confessed, and added, that now they were exceedingly troubled and tortured in their minds for it."

One thing was lacking to confirm these confessions: the marks of the whip could not be found on the bodies of the victims, except on one boy, who had some wounds and holes in his back that were given him with thorns; but the witches said they would quickly vanish.

As described in the court records, the mysterious "Blockula" was situated in a large meadow, like a plain sea, "wherein you can see no end." The house they met at had a great gate painted with many different colors. Through this gate they went into a little meadow distinct from the other, and here they turned their animals to graze. When they had used men for their beasts of burden, they set them up against the wall in a state of helpless slumber, and there they remained until needed for the homeward flight. In a very large room of this house stood a long table, at which the witches sat down, and adjoining this room was another chamber, where there were "lovely and delicate beds."

As soon as they arrived at the ritual site, the visitors were required to deny their baptism and devote themselves body and soul to Satan, whom they promised to serve faithfully. Here-upon the devil cut their fingers, and they wrote their names with blood in his book. He then caused them to be baptized anew, by priests appointed for that purpose.

Upon this the devil gave them a purse, wherein there were filings of clocks, with a big stone tied to it, which they threw into the water, and said, "As these filings of the clock do never return to the clock, from which they were taken, so may my soul never return to heaven!"

Since few of the children had any marks on their fingers to show where they had been cut, another difficulty arose in verifying their statement. But here again the story was helped by a girl who had hurt her finger, and who declared that because she would not stretch out her finger, the devil in anger had wounded it.

When the ceremonies were completed, the witches sat down at the table, those whom the devil esteemed most being placed nearest to him, but the children were made to stand at the door, where he himself gave them meat and drink. The food with which the visitors to "Blockula" were regaled consisted of "broth, with coleworts and bacon in it, oatmeal bread spread with butter, milk and cheese." They said that the food sometimes tasted very good, and sometimes very bad.

After meals, they danced, and it was one peculiarity of these northern witches' sabbaths that the dance was usually followed by fighting. Those of Elfdale confessed that the devil used to play upon a harp before them. Another peculiarity of these northern witches was, it was said, that children resulted from their intercourse with Satan, and these children, having married together, became the parents of toads and serpents.

The witches of Sweden appear to have been less noxious than those of most other countries, for, whatever they confessed, there seems to have been no real evidence of mischief done by them. They confessed that they were obliged to promise Satan that they would do all kinds of mischief and that the devil taught them to "milk" in the following manner. They used to stick a knife in the wall and hang a kind of label on it, which they drew and stroked, and as long as this lasted, the persons they had power over were miserably plagued. The beasts that were milked like this sometimes died.

One woman confessed that the devil gave her a wooden knife, with which, going into houses, she had the power to kill anything she touched. However, there were few that could confess that they had hurt any man or woman. Being asked if they had murdered any children, they confessed that they had indeed tormented many, but did not know whether any of them died of these plagues. They also said that the devil had showed them several places where he had power to do mischief.

The minister of Elfdale declared that one night these witches were, to his thinking, on the crown of his head, and that from this he had a long-continued headache. One of the witches confessed that the devil had sent her to torment the minister, and that she was ordered to strike a nail into his head, but his skull was so hard that the nail would not penetrate it and merely produced that headache. The minister said further that one night he felt a pain as if he were torn with an instrument used for combing flax, and when he awoke, he heard somebody scratching and scraping at the window, but could see nobody. One of the witches confessed that she was the person who had disturbed him.

The minister of Mohra also claimed that one night one of these witches came into his house and so violently took him by the throat that he thought he would choke. Upon awaking, he saw the person that did it, but did not recognize her, and for some weeks he was not able to speak or perform divine service. An old woman of Elfdale confessed that the devil had helped her make a nail, which she stuck into a boy's knee, of which stroke the boy remained lame a long time. She added that before she was burned or executed by the hand of justice, the boy would recover.

Another circumstance confessed by these witches was that the devil gave them a beast, about the shape and size of a cat, which they called a "carrier," and a bird as big as a raven, but white, and these they could send anywhere, and wherever they went, they took away all sorts of victuals, such as butter, cheese, milk, bacon, and all sorts of seeds, and carried them to the witches.

What the bird brought, they kept for themselves, but what the carrier brought they took to "Blockula," where the archfiend gave them as much of it as he thought good. The carriers, they said, often filled themselves so full that they were forced to disgorge by the way, and what they thus rendered fell to the ground, and was found in several gardens where coleworts grew, and far from the houses of the witches. It was of a yellow color like gold and was called witches' butter.

Such were the details, as far as they can now be obtained, of this extraordinary occurrence, the only one known to have occurred in the northern part of Europe during the age of the witchcraft trials. In other countries, we can generally trace some particular cause that gave rise to great persecutions of this kind, but here, as the story is told, we see none, for it is hardly likely that such a strange series of accusations should have been the mere involuntary creation of a party of little children.

Suspicion is excited by the peculiar part the two clergymen of Elfdale and Mohra played in this affair, and perhaps they were not altogether innocent of fabrication. They seem to have been weak, superstitious men, and perhaps they had been reading the witchcraft books of the south until they imagined the country around them to be overrun with witches. Perhaps the two clergymen themselves became alarmed, but one thing seems certain, that the moment the commission was revoked and the persecution ceased, no more witches were heard of.

The proceedings at Mohra caused so much alarm throughout Sweden that prayers were ordered in all the churches for delivery from the snares of Satan, who was believed to have been let loose in that kingdom. A new edict of the king suddenly put a stop to the whole process, and the matter was brought to a close rather mysteriously. It is said that the witch prosecution was increasing so much in intensity that accusations began to be made against people of a higher class in society, and then a complaint was made to the king, and the mania brought to a close.


In 1843, an epidemic of "preaching" occurred in southern Sweden, which provided Joseph Ennemoser with material for an interesting passage in his History of Magic (1854). The manifestation of this was similar in character to outbreaks described elsewhere. A writer in the London Medium and Daybreak of 1878 states,

"It is about a year and a half since I changed my abode from Stockholm to this place, and during that period it is wonderful how Spiritualism has gained ground in Sweden. The leading papers, that used in my time to refuse to publish any article on Spiritualism excepting such as ridiculed the doctrine, have of late thrown their columns wide open to the serious discussion of the matter. Many a Spiritualist in secret, has thus been encouraged to give publicity to his opinions without standing any longer in awe of that demon, public ridicule, which intimidates so many of our brethren.

"Several of Allan Kardec's works have been translated into Swedish, among which I may mention his Evangile selon le Spiritisme as particularly well-rendered in Swedish by Walter Jochnick. A spiritual Library was opened in Stockholm on the 1st of April last, which will no doubt greatly contribute to the spreading of the blessed doctrine. The visit of Mr. Eglinton to Stockholm was of the greatest benefit to the cause. Let us hope that the stay of Mrs. Esperance in the south of Sweden may have an equally beneficial effect.

"Notwithstanding all this progress of the cause in the neighbouring country, Spiritualism is looked upon here as something akin to madness, but even here there are thin, very thin rays, and very wide apart, struggling to pierce the darkness."

In Norway, Spiritualism as known to modern Europe, did not seem to have become existent until about 1880. A writer in a number of the Dawn of Light published in that year states,

"Spiritualism is just commencing to give a sign of its existence here in Norway. The newspapers have begun to attack it as a delusion and the 'expose' of Mrs. C., which recently took place at 38 Great Russell St., London, has made the round through all the papers in Scandinavia. After all, it must sooner or later take root as in all other parts of the world. Mr. Eglinton, the English medium, has done a good work in Stockholm, showing some of the great savants a new world; and a couple of years ago Mr. Slade visited Copenhagen. The works of Mr. Zollner, the great astronomer of Leipzig, have been mentioned in the papers and caused a good deal of sensation.

"Of mediums there are several here, but all, as yet, afraid to speak out. One writes with both hands; a gentleman is developing as a drawing medium. A peasant, who died about five years ago, and lived not far from here, was an excellent healing medium; his name was Knud, and the people had given him the nickname of Vise Knud (the wise Knud); directly when he touched a patient he knew if the same could be cured or not, and often, in severe cases, the pains of the sick person went through his own body. He was also an auditive medium, startling the people many times by telling them what was going to happen in the future; but the poor fellow suffered much from the ignorance and fanaticism around him, and was several times put in prison. I am doing all I can to make people acquainted with our grand cause."

A second and more hopeful letter of 1881, addressed to the editor of the Revue Spirite, was as follows:

"My dear Brothers, Here our science advances without noise. An excellent writing medium has been developed among us, one who writes simultaneously with both hands; while we have music in a room where there are no musical instruments; and where there is a piano it plays itself. At Bergen, where I have recently been, I found mediums, who in the dark, made sketcheswere dessinateursusing also both hands. I have seen, also, with pleasure that several men of letters and of science have begun to investigate our science spirite. The pastor Eckhoff, of Bergen, has for the second time preached against Spiritualism, 'this instrument of the devil, this psychographie'; and to give more of eclat to his sermon he has had the goodness to have it printed; so we see that the spirits are working. The suit against the medium, Mme. F., in London, is going the rounds of the papers of Christiania; these journals opening their columns, when occasion offers, to ridicule Spiritualism. We are, however, friends of the truth, but there are scabby sheep among us of a different temperament. From Stockholm they write me that a library of spiritual works has been opened there, and that they are to have a medium from Newcastle, with whom séances are to be held."

In the London Spiritual Magazine of May 1885, is a long and interesting paper on Swedish Spiritualism by William Howitt, in which he gives quite a notable collection of narratives concerning the "Phenomenal Spiritual Manifestations in Sweden," most of which were furnished by an eminent and learned Swedish gentlemanCount Piper. Howitt stated that the public had become so thoroughly sated with tales of hauntings, apparitions, previsions, etc., that Piper's narrations would present few, if any, features of interest, save in justification of one assertion, that Spiritualism was rife in human experience everywhere, although it might not take the form of a public movement, as it had in America and England.

As early as 1864, the Afton Blad, one of the most popular journals circulated in Sweden, published a number of excellent leading articles commending the belief in spiritual ministry, and the study of such phenomena that would promote communion between the "two worlds."

Psychical Research and Parapsychology

Scandinavia has produced some notable psychical researchers, including Sydney Alrutz (1868-1925) of Uppsala University; Chr. Winther of Copenhagen, who was president of the Danish Society for Psychical Research (Selskapet for Psykisk Forsking) and experimented with the medium Anna Rasmussen; and Aage Slomann (died 1970), a full-time parapsychologist and president of the Danish Society. Professor Jaeger and Thornstein Wereide (who edited the Oslo Psykisk Tidsschrift ) led the effort in Norway, and in Iceland could be found Harald Nielsson (died 1928), who wrote books on theological and psychic subjects; Gudmundur Hannesson of the University of Reykjavik; and Einar Hjorleifsson Kvaran (1859-1938), who founded the Icelandic Society for Psychical Research in 1918.

In 1942, the Swedish Sällskapet för Parapsykologisk Forskning (Society for Parapsychological Research) was founded in Stockholm. Well-known members included Gosta Rodhe, Rolf Evjegärd, Eric Uggla, and Eva Hellström (who was also clairvoyant). The engineer Haakon Forwald (1897-1978) carried out valuable studies in psychokinesis. Other Swedish parapsychologists include Martin Johnson and Nils Olof Jacobson.

In Norway, there is the Norsk Parapsykologist Selskap, under Kirsten Pauss (Dahlsgt. 33, Oslo 3). The dramatist Wiers Jensen (1866-1925) made notable contributions to the study of the "vardo / gr" or "projected double" phenomenon, and also edited the journal Norsk Tiddesskrift for Psykisk Forskning from 1922 to 1925.

In Finland there has also been much activity in parapsychological research, which has received favorable notice from such scientists as Sven Segerstrå;le, professor of biology; Sven Krohn, professor of philosophy and former president of Parapsykologinen Tutkimusseura; Väinö Auer, famous geologist; and Uuno Saarnio, philosopher and mathematician. The Finnish Society for Psychical Research was established as early as 1907 under the name Sällskapet för Forsking i Finland-Suomen Psyykkinen Tutkimusseura. The psychical researcher Jarl Fahler was president for a number of years, and also experimented with ESP and psychokinesis; a later president was Stefan Talqvist. In 1938, the Parapsykologinen Tutkimusseura was established and has been active ever since. In 1965, an Institute of Parapsychology was established in Helsingfors, directed by Jarl Fahler, who is also president of the Society for Hypnosis in Finland. Another parapsychological organization is Tampereen Parapsykologinen Tutkimusseura, in Tammersfors, under the presidency of Gunnar Strömmer.


views updated May 18 2018


The Scandinavian peninsula is made up of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Sometimes these countries are linked with the Nordic countries—traditionally including Finland and Iceland—and in the late twentieth century these countries were sometimes linked with the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as England and Scotland. This entry will examine marriage and family in Scandinavia, Finland, and Iceland, using Sweden for comparisons.

Defined by the number of inhabitants, all these countries are small. Sweden is the largest, with a population of 9 million and Iceland is the smallest, with a population of approximately 250,000.

Historically, Scandinavia and Iceland were known for the Vikings, famous for their fighting and conquering habits. However, the Vikings—in the eighth through the tenth centuries—were mostly farmers and tradesmen. Since that time the population remained fairly homogeneous, with some immigration, mainly from Germany and France, between the fifteenth through the nineteenth century. However, the population has become less homogeneous with immigration, mainly refugees, from the near and far East.

Around year 1000 CE, a number of Scandinavian kingdoms converted to Christianity—but it was many years before they became fully Christian.Martin Luther was a powerful influence in the sixteenth century, and the Lutheran Church became the sole religion until freedom of religion became the norm in the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, non-Christians and non-Lutherans remain small minorities in Scandinavia.


During pre-Christian times the process of becoming husband and wife was a five-step process following the courtship period. The first step was the betrothal, when what was already known was announced: the couple was going to marry. The second step was the marriage ceremony, when the father of the bride gave the bride to the groom and the bride's parents gave a party. The third step was the trip from the bride's home to the groom's home, which was dangerous because of the risk of bandits. The fourth step was the wedding party to which all important persons—friends and relatives of the bride's parents—were invited. The final step was the bedding, when the guests at the wedding party followed the newly married couple home and watched them go to bed (Carlsson 1965). The two were now a married couple.

These pre-Christian rules remained intact for several centuries after Christianity became the official religion. The pope sent papal bulls to the bishops demanding them to keep order, get rid of pre-Christian habits, and introduce the Christian ceremonies, but the changes took a long time.

For centuries, the mortality rate was high—especially for men—and therefore the marriage rate was much lower for women than for men; far more women than men never married. That contrasts with the twentieth century: By 1960 the marriage rate was higher than ever before.

However, the marriage rate suddenly decreased in Sweden the mid-1960s (see Figure 1). The decrease in the marriage rate was much more gradual in other Scandinavian countries, and did not appear until the early 1970s.

During the 1960s, many changes followed the relatively calm (for Scandinavia) postwar period. For example, the Vietnam War became a major political issue, neo-Marxists criticized the model nuclear family as well as marriage, and new contraceptives became available and socially acceptable. In Sweden, there was no need to import labor because many housewives could enter the labor market.

Criticism against traditional family and marriage resulted in the then-radical idea of cohabiting without marrying (Trost 1980). Not until the mid-1970s was it clear that nonmarital cohabitation had arrived as a social institution. Initially, cohabitation was a deviant phenomenon, but it rapidly became so common that eventually almost no couple married without having cohabited for some time (see Figure 2). Some couples moved in together early in the courtship period, some later, but virtually no one waited until they married to live together. For some couples, nonmarital cohabitation is premarital cohabitation, whereas others have no intention to ever marry.

Another way of showing the impact upon cohabitation is to look at the number of children born to unmarried women. Before the changes, about 10 percent of all children born were born by unmarried women. In 1975, this had increased to 32 percent, 46 percent in 1985, 53 percent in 1995, and 55 percent in 2000. The other Scandinavian countries have followed the same trend, although at a slower pace (Befolkningsförändringar).

Thus, nonmarital cohabitation became a social institution alongside marriage in Scandinavian society. Viewing that society longitudinally, however, shows a slightly different picture. A young couple will start by living together for a few years—if they do not separate, they may marry. If they separate, both will find another partner with whom they will cohabit relatively soon. Thus, in this respect, the marriage and cohabitation are not parallel institutions.

What is different? Is the only difference the absence of the marriage ceremony? Superficially, it is tempting to say that nothing has changed except the rituals. However, previously there were four elements tightly connected and related to marriage: (1) the wedding ceremony and party; (2) the moving in together in a home of their own; (3) the initiation of a sex life together; and (4) a new born child, expected after about a year (Trost 1993).

There were normative connections between these four elements and couples were not supposed to violate them. The prohibition against premarital sex was what sociologists call an ideal norm and not a real behavioral norm—at least not in Denmark and Sweden. Everyone knew that almost all couples engaged in premarital sex, but it should be hidden—proper people should not share rooms in hotels, for example. Moreover, there should be no visible result of the common sexual behavior. If a woman became pregnant, she should either have an abortion (even though abortions were illegal until the 1930s) or the couple should marry as soon as possible. In Sweden in the 1950s, at least one bride out of three was pregnant at the time of her wedding (Historisk statistik 1967).

Most couples feel that if they cohabit they should get married eventually. It is important to note that these are two different statements. The first statement is a comment concerning a long-term situation and the other is about an occurrence—a wedding ceremony and party. The latter is particularly interesting because it demonstrates a remarkable change.

Before the meaning of marriage changed—namely, breaking the normative connections of the four elements mentioned above—the traditional wedding party was an occasion when the bride's parents celebrated—with friends and relatives—the occasion of their daughter leaving the parental home. Now the wedding party is primarily organized for the friends of the bride and the groom. (Typically, the couple has been invited to many wedding parties to the effect that they have to marry in order to "pay back" for all the wedding parties to which they have been invited.) Relatives come next and then, if space allows, the parents' friends are invited. Furthermore, couples marrying are often around thirty years of age and well established in their lives. Thus, the parents play a subservient role.

Thus, the marital system changed—but what happened in 1989? (See Figure 1.) One can see the marriage rate increased and then almost immediately decreased again. What cannot be seen in the diagram is that there were no changes in the marriage rate during the months January through October. However, in November the number of marriages doubled—as compared to marriages in previous years—from 2,000 to 4,000 marriages. One would expect to see another 2,000 marriages in December—but there were 64,000 marriages during that month. In January 1990, the marriage rate was back again to the historically low level.

Why this totally unexpected rush to the altar (or the civil marriage official)? During the summer of 1989 the Swedish Parliament decided to eliminate the widow's pension (ordinarily provided by the government) after January 1, 1990. However, the old rules (somewhat modified) would remain in force for those women who were married at that time, and had a child when the husband died. One of the more important modifications was that the size of the pension would be dependent not only upon income of the deceased husband but also of the new widow. Thus, few widows would receive any pension and those who did would receive a minimal one. The result was that by the end of 1989 there were almost no housewives in Sweden. Thus, one answer to the question of the marriage boom is: the law changed.

Revising the widow's pension had been discussed for decades, and the issue was not considered a particularly interesting topic. Moreover, because the decision was made in the summer, few noticed what happened. However, a journalist wrote about it, and noted that quite a few couples would marry before the end of the year. Other stories followed in the print media, radio, and television discussing the rush to find appointments in the churches. This was actually not the case when the stories appeared, but it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, another answer is that mass media changed the marriage rate.

A third way of looking at the marriage boom of 1989 to consider unmarried couples. As mentioned above, many couples believe they should eventually get married. When a cue came—stories in the popular press—they took the opportunity to marry. As so often happens in decision making, there is a need for a cue if a decision is to be made.

For example, a woman and a man had been living together for almost twenty years, and they had two teenage children. One day in the middle of December 1989 the woman came home to their town house and met a neighbor. They began talking, and the neighbor asked what they would be doing for Christmas. The woman replied that her mother would be visiting (from far away in Northern Sweden) and this would probably be the last time she could take such a long journey because she was old and not doing well. Thus, this was a special occasion and they had to do something special for the mother. One of the two mentioned something about the possibility getting married and having a party—being traditional, the mother would be happy to see her daughter married. The neighbor, who was a minister, immediately said that even if there were problems with time slots in his church he could make some arrangements. Thus, the cohabiting couple married. (Later the mother recovered, and some years later the couple divorced.)

Sociological analysis suggests that the 1989 marriage boom was related to the large pool of cohabiting couples that grew during all the years since nonmarital cohabitation became common—and the couples' idea that one should eventually get married. Thus, a boom could occur again with a strong enough cue: not only in Sweden, but in any part of the world where cohabitation is common.

Living Apart Together

All known societies are built upon some sort of marriage—and some have also constructed non-marital cohabitation as a social institution. In the 1970s, the concept of Living Apart Together (LAT) relationships appeared in some countries. This was first identified in the Netherlands. The term LAT relatie first appeared in a newspaper article in 1978 (Levin and Trost 1999) and has since become the international term in English.

An LAT relationship is a couple, same or opposite gender, who lives together but does not share the same home. The two are defined by their social standing as a couple and treated in the same manner as married or cohabiting couples. They have two separate homes and households in which other persons may live, such as children or parents. The phenomenon of LAT relationships is clearly different from commuting marriages/cohabitation—the latter have a common home, whereas the LAT couples have one each.

One can ask what the difference is between couples going steady and the LAT couples. In countries such as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, the phenomenon of a going-steady couple is more or less outdated. The difference is that, traditionally, the going-steady couple did not share a bed at anytime (at least not openly). LAT couples are allowed to do so.

Of course, LAT couples have always existed, as have cohabiting couples: but they were deviant cases. LAT couples tended to be among the more affluent, such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (Rodman 1966; Trost 1980).

In the early twenty-first century, LAT relationships could hardly exist had not nonmarital cohabitation come in existence along with the weakening of traditional prohibitions against nonmarital sex. Because the four elements mentioned above lost their connection, cohabitation and LAT relationships (somewhat later) became possible.

Information about the frequency of LAT relationships is limited. A 1993 study in Sweden showed that approximately 2 percent of the Swedes ages eighteen to seventy-four (35,000 couples or 70,000 individuals) were living in LAT relationships. By 2001 this had increased to over 5 percent (75,000 couples/150,000 individuals). For the purposes of comparison, if the percentages were the same in the United States, there would be four to five million people living in LAT relationships.

What are the reasons for couples not to follow the old norm that one should live together under such circumstances?

First, there are couples living relatively far from each other who have jobs at their respective locales. To quit a good job in order to take a job at the other place might be impossible or too risky. Many of these couples look forward to the time when one of them retires so that they can move in together. However, when that time comes, they might not move in together for various other reasons.

Next are those couples who have children at home—from a previous relationship—and who do not want to live in a stepfamily household (Levin 1994). Concerns about the children's well-being may preempt other desires. If individuals care for both their children and the new relationship, and are reluctant to risk either, they may decide to stay apart but together. Both persons in the LAT relationship might have children at home and if they move in together the children of one of them would be forced to deal with various changes, such as the move itself, changing school, or missing friends and playmates. Couples in this situation might have elderly parents to care for and cannot, or do not wish to, move.

A third situation concerns those who have had bad experiences from previous cohabitation (e.g., a traumatic divorce or separation), and they do not wish to make the same mistake they made in a previous relationship. One woman remarked: "He found a younger and more attractive woman after we had been married for 25 years. I had become too boring and taken for granted. I don't want to run that risk again. This way with living apart we have more fun and might be able to keep the relationship alive in a positive way."

Finally, retired couples may prefer an LAT relationship. There can be various reasons for this. As mentioned above, it may have to do with the perceived risk of falling into a boring routine if they cohabit. Alternatively, one or both members of the couple may have children and/or grandchildren nearby, and they may wish to remain close to them, especially if the other member of the couple lives far away. For others there can be questions about which of one's belonging should be brought to a new home. Such decisions can be so difficult that the decision is to remain as a couple in an LAT relationship.


In the Scandinavian countries, like the rest of the Western world, divorces were rare a century ago. Legislation prohibited divorces almost everywhere. Moreover, shorter lifespans left many women and men widows and widowers, respectively. As the mortality rate dropped, and lifespans became longer, fewer marriages were ended by death, and there was a need for more liberal divorce laws.

In 1916, Sweden became the first Scandinavian country with a liberal—for that time—divorce law (modified somewhat in 1920). The other Scandinavian countries followed with similar laws within few years. These laws allowed essentially two grounds for divorce: irretrievable breakdown, with a minimum of one year's separation, or a fault on the part of a spouse, such as adultery or alcoholism, in which case the divorce could be granted immediately. These laws remained on the books without any significant changes until the mid-1970s.

Figure 3 shows that the divorce rate in Sweden increased slowly at first and then more rapidly until about 1950, after which it remained stable for about fifteen years. This trend is the same for other Scandinavian countries, although the number of divorces is fewer, especially in Finland and Norway, less so in Denmark. The divorce rates increased again—simultaneously with appearance of non-marital cohabitation. However, research has not shown a direct connection. The sudden jump in divorces in the early 1970s is mostly due to technical changes of the legal system.

The late 1960s saw Scandinavian governments overhauling matrimonial laws, particularly divorce laws. In the early 1970s, new laws allowed for quick, no-fault divorces. However, if there is a child in the home the couple must wait six months and reflect upon the reasonability of a divorce. The same rule applies when only one of the spouses wants to divorce.

As nonmarital cohabitation became common, one might think that divorce statistics would no longer be of interest, and the simple divorce rates shown in Figure 3 support this view. However, examining marriage cohorts (Figure 4), one can see that of those who married in 1956, 25 percent were divorced after thirty-five years (the rest are either still married or one of the spouses has died). For those who married in 1991 it took only about eight years to reach to the same percentage. Thus, one can conclude that the divorce rates have continued to increase.

It would be interesting to compare divorce rates with those of cohabiting couples who have chosen to separate. Unfortunately, such comparisons are hard to make. Even if nonmarital cohabitation is a social institution like marriage, the two forms are not parallel. Nonmarital cohabitation can become marital cohabitation but marital cohabitation cannot become nonmarital cohabitation—almost no married couple divorces in order to live as nonmarital cohabitants, at least not in the Scandinavian countries. It is conceivable that in other countries there could be cases due to taxation or economic considerations.

Furthermore, many cohabiting couples may be compared with couples going steady (see Figure 2) and such couples also face the possibility of dissolution of the relationship. Thus, there is no reason to compare divorce rates with separations of non-marital cohabitation.

When cohabitation was a new and relatively unknown phenomenon many believed that divorces among marriages preceded by cohabitation would be less common than those in which the couples did not cohabit before marriage. Such an assumption does not hold for Scandinavian countries, because almost no one marries without premarital cohabitation.

See also:Germany


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caradec, v. (1996). "les formes de la vie conjugales des 'jeunes' couples 'âgés.'" population 51: 897–928.

carlsson, l. (1965). jag giver dig min dotter (i give you my daughter). lund: rättshistoriskt bibliotek, attonde bandet.

historisk statistik. (1967). historisk statistik för sverige. (historical statistics for sweden). stockholm: statistiska centralbyran.

levin, i. (1994). stefamilien—variasjon og mangfold. oslo: tano.

levin, i., and trost, j. (1999). "living apart together." community, work and family 2:279–294.

rodman, h. (1966). "illegitimacy in the caribbean social structure: a reconsideration." american sociological review 31:673–683.

trost, j. (1980). unmarried cohabitation. västeras, sweden: international library.

trost, j. (1993). familjen i sverige. stockholm: liber.

jan trost


views updated Jun 11 2018

Scandinavia In physicial geography, the n European peninsular countries of Sweden and Norway. In a broader, cultural sense it also includes Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The climate ranges from subarctic in the n, to humid continental in the centre, and marine in the w and sw. The terrain is mountainous in the w with swift-flowing streams. In the e the land slopes more gently and there are thousands of lakes, notably in Finland. Part of the region lies within the Arctic Circle, where tundra predominates. Denmark and s Sweden have the best farmland. A large proportion of the land is forested, there are rich mineral deposits, particularly of iron ore and copper, and fishing is still important. The largest cities are Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden; Oslo in Norway; Copenhagen in Denmark, and Helsinki in Finland. Area: c.1.258 million sq km (485,250sq mi).


views updated Jun 08 2018

Scan·di·na·vi·an / ˌskandəˈnāvēən/ • adj. of or relating to Scandinavia, its people, or their languages.• n. 1. a native or inhabitant of Scandinavia, or a person of Scandinavian descent.2. the North Germanic languages (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, Faeroese) descended from Old Norse.