Social expenditure overview

Comparable social expenditure among the Nordic countries is calculated using methods from ESSPROS. This section gives an overview of changes in overall social expenditure.

Social protection encompasses all interventions from public or private bodies intended to relieve households and individuals of the burden of a defined set of risks or needs, if there is neither a simultaneous reciprocal nor an individual arrangement involved.

Overall social expenditure in Nordic countries

To be comparable among countries, social expenditures are often expressed in relation to GDP.

In 2018, Denmark and Finland have the highest social expenditures in relation to GDP, while Faroe Islands and Iceland has the lowest expenditures.

From year 2000 until 2018, the social expenditures in relation to GDP has risen in all Nordic countries except from Sweden.


Social expenditures comprise of expenditures for both benefits in cash and benefits in kind.

The statistics cover schemes that are compulsory for large groups of people under collective bargaining agreements or other kinds of agreements.

The focus is on current running costs, consequently investment spending and tax reliefs are not included. To be comparable among countries, the costs are based on social expenditure minus direct taxes.

Social expenditure by type and function

Social expenditure is broken down by eight functions and by benefits in cash and benefits in kind. The breakdown by function is based on the social needs or risks that the benefit is primarily intended to address.

In the Nordic countries, the distribution according to function is largely stable. However, new legislation and shifting social patterns results in changes among functions.