Denmark is the happiest country in the world. That’s according to a recent survey that ranks countries on several criteria, including GDP per capita, social support, and healthy life expectancy.
For more than two decades, Denmark has been consistently scoring near the top of global happiness rankings. What makes it such a desirable place? Here are five reasons why:
The Danish work-life balance is second to none.
According to the OECD Better Life Index, Danes work an average of 1,464 hours per year, a total of 300 hours less than the average American.
A 20-hour workweek is standard for civil servants and school teachers. And many people choose to start (or end) their working day at 11 am or 2 pm to join their children at school.
Eighty percent of five-year-olds attend preschool, compared with 57% in the U.K.
Danish parents get 52 weeks of paid parental leave, and professional carers can take it over if they like.
The maternity package is so generous that many women choose to take it despite having only planned for a shorter time.
Danish mothers enjoy a whopping 14 weeks of maternity leave on full pay before and after the birth, then 32 weeks at 90% of their salary or 50 weeks at 80%.
Danes typically take six weeks of vacation every year, and 25% of the workforce retire before they reach 60.
Free university education and free healthcare.
Denmark offers its citizens an exceptional standard of living, specifically in education and health care, two areas that Danes place a great deal of emphasis on.
All Danish students enjoy free university tuition at public institutions. In fact, higher education in Denmark is entirely free of charge for both Danish citizens and EU/EEA students.
Danish citizens can apply to have most of their medical treatments covered by the state, including dental and optical care. And with access to some of the world’s best hospitals (ranked by U.S. News and World Report), many Danes travel abroad for elective treatments.
Meanwhile, the average life expectancy for both men and women is among the highest in the world, at 80 years.
A strong sense of community.
In Denmark, there is a saying that goes, “there’s no such thing as a stranger; only friends you haven’t met yet.”
That attitude, along with a strong sense of social solidarity and belonging, is what makes Denmark such an open place to live in.
In general, Danes are friendly and welcoming people who love spending time with each other – chatting over coffee or sharing meals at home with family or friends.
Danes tend to know their neighbors and are happy to offer assistance when needed.
When in need, Danes can also rely on the public and private institutions that provide counseling, healthcare services, or legal support.
The Danes are a world leader’s inequality.
The World Economic Forum ranks Scandinavian countries as the most economically equal places on Earth, with Denmark on top.
Wages are negotiated and agreed upon by the unions, then paid equally to men and women – as a result, there is no ‘gender pay gap in Denmark.
This approach extends even to salaries right at the very top of the tree: when CEOs get a salary raise, their secretaries also see an increase in line with inflation.
And only 4% of Danish men and 2% of Danish women earn below the minimum wage – compared with 9.1% in the U.K.
The Danish welfare system ensures that its citizens enjoy high levels of social security and protection from poverty.
All Danish citizens are entitled to a basic income, paid for by taxes.
There are several other social security benefits for people who may require extra support due to illness or unemployment: the unemployed receive financial aid, and all families benefit.
Danish citizens also enjoy high levels of protection from poverty and debt via the public system, which prevents people from falling behind with their rent or mortgage payments.
Fewer work hours but more holiday time.
Danish workers have relatively high production rates and low levels of absenteeism. According to OECD data, Danish employees work fewer hours than the E.U. average, earn higher salaries, and are more productive per hour worked than most of their European peers.
In fact, the average Danish worker earns 2867 kroner (about £320) per hour – and yet works fewer hours than an average German or French worker.
The official working week is 37 hours long, with five weeks of paid holiday each year – 30 days in Denmark’s ‘holiday’ month of July.
And even after retirement, Danes still enjoy an enviable work/life balance: the state pension age is set to rise gradually for both men and women from 65 to 67 by 2023. It will mean more time for relaxation and recreation in a country where the sun shines on average for 2,000 hours every year.
Strong support for families.
According to the OECD, Denmark has one of the best childcare systems globally: generous state benefits and tax exemptions are available for both parents during their parental leave after childbirth – during which they will receive 80 percent of their salary from the government.
High levels of trust and social cohesion.
Danish society has been ranked as one of the most trustworthy places to live in: Danes trust their friends and neighbors, feel confident that they can rely on family members for help when needed, and are generally happy with how others treat them.
In general, Danish citizens report that they are happy to leave their possessions unattended (there are no fences around the ‘street furniture’ such as lampposts or benches) and that they feel comfortable leaving their front doors unlocked.
As a result, Denmark has deficient levels of public mistrust.
Low levels of crime.
The Danish police have managed to keep crime rates at shallow levels; Denmark has the lowest crime rates in Europe.
It is frequently named one of the safest places to live – even though more than 50% of the country’s 5.5 million people live in urban areas, with city populations regularly exceeding 100,000 inhabitants.
There are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurship.
Denmark is consistently ranked as one of the best countries to start and scale up a business.
Copenhagen regularly tops city rankings for its conducive business climate, digital infrastructure, progressive attitudes, and well-educated workforce.
Its high innovation and fast broadband connection have attracted foreign investors, such as Skype (acquired by Microsoft) and Maersk (the world’s most oversized shipping and logistics company).
Denmark produces more wind power per capita than anywhere else on Earth, and Danish companies such as Vestas are market leaders in renewable energy technology.
According to Forbes, “More than 50% of Denmark’s electricity comes from wind power and other renewables, thanks to a complete revamp of the country’s energy infrastructure that began in the ’70s.
The enormous investment is now paying dividends”. Denmark even generates more wind power than it needs, exporting around 19% of its production to neighboring countries.
It’s known as one of the most environmentally sustainable countries in the world.
Denmark produces around 25% of its energy from renewables, enough to cover the needs of all its citizens.
It has maintained a high level of GDP growth while reducing carbon emissions and protecting nature through large-scale investments in wind farms and hydroelectric power stations, alongside investment in the energy-efficient housing stock.
Gender equality is a high priority.
A relatively small country, Denmark has one of the highest levels of female political representation in the world: almost 50% of Danish M.P.s are women, and women make up 40 percent of senior management positions in private companies.
The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report ranks Denmark as number one for gender equality out of 144 countries.
There’s no shortage of work-life balance.
The Danish people are delighted with their working conditions and the relationship between work and private life.
This is reflected in relatively low levels of stress: Denmark has one of the lowest proportions of employees who feel overworked (16%) in Europe – as well as a strong sense of job security, with only 1.8% unemployment.
In Denmark, there’s a lack of corruption and high levels of transparency in the public sector.
Danish politics is frequently ranked as one of the least corrupt in comparison to other countries – it has been ranked as the country with the least perceived corruption every year since 2007 by Transparency International.
This is mainly due to transparent laws and rules governing political parties and a long tradition of broad-reaching social dialogue.
Politicians from all main parties meet regularly with representatives of trade unions and employer organizations.
The bottom line: tax freedom.
Danes pay very little tax, with a top rate of income tax set at around 60%. In addition, most Danish wage earners take home around 54% of their salary – the highest disposable income for workers in Europe.
Danes are also happy to pay high indirect taxes such as sales and excise duties: high VAT rates are levied on many goods and services.
Nevertheless, Denmark is one of the world’s most competitive economies with a globalized workforce, high export rates, and solid inward investment.