The standard of Finnish morality

What a grandiose headline that is. But it’s worth checking out what is allowed in a society and what is not, and since Finnish society has its own particular history and setting, it’s a good topic to delve deeper into. Here we go: into the Finnish morality.

On the Spanish version of the blog, we often compare Finland and Spain. Sometimes Finland wins, and sometimes Spain wins. That is because no place is better than the other, just different, and that is what we love about Finland: its differences. If you want to check out a cool post we did with quantitative data instead you can go, for instance, to this one: all about the average Finnish man and woman.

Finnish people in Helsinki
A lot of Finnish people in Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

The study about Finnish morality

The data on this post comes from asking Finnish people directly, instead of measuring something and getting hard data. And what was the topic the study wanted to bring light to? What behaviors are morally acceptable (or unacceptable) to Finns. Asking questions about this is what the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat did here.

The general tone of the questions was this:

What’s the most immoral act that a person can do, if we leave aside rape and homicide? Would it be cheating on the taxes? Cheating on your loved one? Violence? According to Finns, the most blameworthy thing a Finn can do is calling in sick without being really ill, and 85% of people agree on it.

1.000 Finns were asked to rate different topics in order of moral importance. The idea was born a couple of years back, in a time when the first Greek crisis was a topic of debate, as well as same-sex marriage and verbal abuse.

The questions dealt with what was good or bad, how people should behave, how people should be treated and which values should guide Finland as a society. The topics of the questions varied from “how bad is it to steal office supplies” to “death penalty”.

What Finns consider the worst

The most widely condemned thing was to call in sick without being really sick.

Sleeping at home
Staying home sleeping in without being ill is truly not well regarded in Finland. Source (CC: by-sa)

In the same way, bribing policemen, smoking weed, cheating on a loved one (check this one out, Erasmus students in Finland) and cheating on the taxman were the other topics that were widely declared morally despicable.

Most Finns also opposed verbal abuse, insults (not Finnish Swearwords, though), riding the public transport without paying (in Finland you take your public rides with an “honor system”) and breeding animals with lucrative intent in an industrial scale.

As you can see, the topic of trust and relying on others to behave well is very important for the Finnish people, as they believe that this is what keeps society together. The Helsinki Sanomat’s article says (but doesn’t link to) a study that states that countries in which people place greater trust in each other are richer than the rest. That, or people in countries where people are richer can afford to trust others.

A tram in Helsinki
It is not well regarded morally to ride, for instance, this tram in Helsinki without paying. Source (CC: by-nd)

But do Finns do as they preach?

The article says that generally they do.

The article also asked these 1.000 people to signal how many of these questionable acts they did commit, and they didn’t indicate a double standard.

Furthermore, Finns seem to behave better than others expect of them. For instance, 29% said that it’d be acceptable to ride the public transport without a ticket, but only 25% admitted doing so. As well, 25% said that it was acceptable to cheat on a loved one under some circumstances, but 22% reported doing it (on average, of course; 34% of over 60-year-olds said they did it).

Getting back to the most vile thing someone can do, calling in sick but not being sick (cultural thing: “hangover” is krapula in Finnish language): only 6% admitted to doing so.

And of course “admitting” is the key word: We don’t know if they told the truth to a stranger that comes asking some private questions.

Street in Helsinki
Finns walking down a street in Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

Are all Finns the same or are there differences?

They aren’t the same, but almost.

Although answers tend to be homogenous in most of the country, some differences were found on answers to topics like “stealing office supplies”, “buying sex services”, “illicit employment” and “death penalty”. The answers to questions about those topics differed regarding the municipality in which they were asked, and about 50% approved or disapproved it morally.

In the same way, answers were similar between different social classes.

Specifically, if we look at answers per gender we can see more discrepancies. The standard of morality differed between men – who tend to be more accepting of one-night-stands, cheating on a spouse and buying sex services – and women – who thought divorce and same-sex marriage were more acceptable.

Older Finn
There are also differences between younger and older Finns, such as this gentleman. Source (CC: by-sa)

If we look at age differences in this study, they are bigger than the gender ones. People younger than 25 were more tolerant towards cheating a bit on the taxes, or missing work. Older Finns opposed more fiercely to breeding and growing animals in reduced spaces (maybe older Finns were more in touch with nature than the younger generation).

The answers in difference age brackets also brought interesting cues. Finns below the age of 25 were less tolerant towards one-night-stands, infidelity, divorce and drinking ’till dropping than people in the next age bracket. The younger generation had the most positive vision of homosexuality, and the most negative one about military conscription.

Military service is not popular among young Finns
Military service: Not appreciated amongst younger Finns. Source (CC: by-sa)

The worst part of the questions about morality

What’s the worst, in my opinion? That they consider the death penalty fairly acceptable, are not opposed to pulling a kids’ hair when they misbehave and were tolerating the use of the derogatory term for black people (nekkeri, equivalent to English nigger) when talking about and to these people.

What do you think about this study? Did it confirm what you knew about Finns? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.

I've been writing about Finland for 8 years. In these articles I am trying to transmit my passion for Finland, its marvelous nature and cities, its people and the culture of the country. Thanks for reading!