Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i In Focus i In focus 2012 i When commuting becomes an obstacle race i Swedes cross-border commute to Denmark more than anyone

Swedes cross-border commute to Denmark more than anyone

| Text: Marie Preisler, Photo: Museum Lolland-Falster, Bornholm Museum

Thousands of people commute to Denmark from neighbouring countries to work - especially Swedes. But in times of crisis the number of cross-border commuters dwindles.

Most customers in Copenhagen shops are sometimes being served by Swedish shop workers, and guests at cafes and restaurants in the Nyhavn area are used to being served beer by Swedish speaking waiters. Swedes have overtaken Germans and Poles as the top cross border commuters to Denmark.

No other neighbouring country send as many cross-border commuters to work in Danish workplaces as Sweden at the moment. The latest commuter statistics from Denmark’s National Labour Market Authority shows 13,253 Swedes commuted to and from Denmark in 2011 - the equivalent to 8,374 Danish full time jobs held down by Swedes.

Four years ago, southern neighbours Germany and Poland sent the most people across to Denmark to work. But cross border commuting to Denmark has fallen markedly in the wake of the economic crisis which hit Denmark in 2009.

Few Danes work in Sweden

In 2008 – before the crisis – 19,855 German commuters worked in Denmark  (the equivalent to 10,911 full time jobs). Last year the number had been halved. In 2008 the number of Polish cross border commuters was nearly as big and that too has now been halved. Swedish cross border commuting has also fallen but not as much as the German and Polish commuting. 

Swedes commuting to Denmark mainly work in retail, transport, in hotels and restaurants, in the health sector, as cleaners and knowledge workers. German cross border commuters work mainly in industry, the building and transport trade and to a lesser extent in retail and cleaning. 

Danish employers hire far more Lithuanian commuters than before within agriculture and cleaning. Yet there are only some 3,000 Lithuanians who commute to Denmark to work, and very few commuted to Denmark from Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Finland and Iceland. 

There are no statistics for how many Danes commute to neighbouring countries, but it is clear that the number of Danes commuting to Sweden is far lower than the number of Swedes commuting to Denmark. The Øresund Institute estimates just some 700 Danes commutes across Øresund to work on the Swedish side. On top of that a few Danes have moved permanently to Sweden because of lower costs of living.

New knowledge on Swedish cross border commuters

The fact that cross border commuting between Denmark and Sweden ebbs and flows with the state of the economy is nothing new, says the CEO at the Øresund Institute Anders Olshov. He points out that the number of Swedish cross border commuters sky-rocketed in the decade from 1999 to 2009, and that there is now a slight decrease. 

A similar tendency is shown in a new report from the Nordic Council of Ministers: Cross border commuting from Sweden to Denmark and Norway between 2001 and 2008. The report, published by Statistics Norway, says a total of 47,000 people commuted from Sweden to Denmark and Norway in 2008 - an increase of 166 percent on 2001. 

The report also looks closer at who the Swedish commuters are and where they live. Swedes who work in Denmark typically live in south-west Skåne, while Swedes working in Norway live more spread out across Sweden but with a certain concentration on the Västra Götaland region, Värmland and Dalarna counties.

Around half of the Swedish cross border commuters have finished college and a third has further education, especially managerial economists, technicians and nurses and doctors. More than one in four of Swedes who commuted to Denmark and Norway in 2008 were between 16 and 24.

Long tradition for cross border commuting

Swedish commuting to Denmark has a long history. According to the Danish Immigration Museum more than 81,500 Old pic 1Swedes immigrated into Denmark towards the end of the 1800s to find jobs in agriculture, as servants and in construction. Some other Swedes were hired as seasonal workers.

In order to avoid Swedish labour being exploited, an 1884 law stipulated that only Swedish citizens could recruit workers in Sweden. The workers were then sent to Denmark or northern Germany on boats in large groups, often in poor conditions. Most of the Swedish immigrants were young men and women from the countryside. 

Swedish agricultural workers were hired for the cultivation of beets, which started in Denmark around 1870. From the 1880s farmers from Skåne started growing beets and Swedish labour in Danish beet fields was gradually replaced by eastern-European seasonal workers. 

Old pic 2Some Swedish girls also worked as milkmaids or servants in the cities. During the 1800s around one in ten girl servants in Copenhagen were Swedish.

Some stayed on in Denmark and married Danish men. A range of special agreements between Denmark and Sweden during the 1880s and 1890s ensured special rights for Swedish immigrants. One such right was the access to poor relief after 12 years living in Denmark.

Where Swedes work in Denmark

1. Retail

2. Health and social care

3. Transport

4. Industry

5. Hotels and restaurants

Cross border commuting nations in Denmark in 2011

1.     Sweden

2.     Germany

3.     Poland

4.     Lithuania

5.     Latvia

6.     Norway

7.     Finland

8.     Iceland

9.     Estonia

Source: The Danish National Labour Market Authority (calculated as full time positions)

The Museum of Immigration

The Museum of Immigration is in Farum, a Copenhagen suburb. It’s a modern museum of Danish immigration history. Visitors get to know the stories behind the people who throughout history have been coming to Denmark. The Museum opened on 27 January 2012 and lies in the centre of Farum.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment