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Author challenges idea of post-class Finland

Upbringing and environment still determine social mobility in Finland, according to a Finnish-Swedish author who has written extensively about poverty.

Rakennusmies.
Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Mathias Rosenlund, a lauded author and warehouse worker, says traditional class divides are still strong in Finland.

"Today there’s a sense that the working class is a thing of the past. It exists in some far-off place in India, not here. But this is an illusion - Finland is filled with warehouse workers, taxi drivers, bus drivers and cleaners. The working class comprises smart people living a good life," he explained.

Story continues after photo.

Mathias Rosenlund
Mathias Rosenlund Image: Yle

Just a few decades ago educational attainment and wealth closely corresponded with residents' social status. But much has happened since then and class lines have become more fluid, with realities ranging from affluent people with little education to unemployed academics.

Today's 'precariat' class, a portmanteau of precarious and proletariat, includes the long-term unemployed and short-term workers. Regardless of their background these people live on the edge of poverty. A person’s cultural capital also plays an increasingly important role while traditional ideas about political belonging are being tested.

Rosenlund, whose autobiographical book Kopparbergsvägen 20 was short-listed for the 2014 Runeberg Prize, works in a warehouse.

"I wanted to do something physical, real. I didn't want to freelance, work under precarious contracts or go from gig to gig as I had done in the past," said the author, who has also temped in daycares.

But while class structures have become more complex, a traditional divide still exists, according to Rosenlund whose books, often set in Vantaa’s relatively impoverished Myyrmäki district, tackle urban poverty in Finland, with topics broaching marginalisation, inferiority complexes and mental illness.

Associations trace class roots

Among older generations in Finland, class differences are less subtle. The small town of Dragsfjärd on the south-western coast is home to two Swedish-speaking pensioner associations—one for blue-collar and one for white-collar workers who have little contact though dealing with the same issues.

"I think class difference a little ingrained in our generation," said Anna-Lisa Rosenqvist of the Dragsfjärds Pensionärer association.

Sports groups also used to define class boundaries in Finland.

"Today very few people would consider the labour movement roots of a sports organisation," sports journalist Antti Koivukangas said.

Rosenlund said he hoped for more contact between residents from different walks of life, noting that upbringing and environment still curb social mobility in the country.

"The lower down you are in the social hierarchy, the more difficult it is to have perspective on the options available to you," he told Yle.

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