The Nordic paradox confirmed: Sweden has higher partner violence rates than Spain despite its greater gender equality

  • Scientific Culture and Innovation Unit
  • June 5th, 2019
(From left toright). Manuel Martín Fernández, Marisol Lila and Enrique Gracia, of the Department of Social Psychology of the University of Valencia. Photo: Jorge Gil.
(From left toright). Manuel Martín Fernández, Marisol Lila and Enrique Gracia, of the Department of Social Psychology of the University of Valencia. Photo: Jorge Gil.

A research team from the universities of València and Lund (Malmö, Sweden) has confirmed the so-called Nordic paradox, or prevalence of high levels of violence against women in relationships in countries with high rates of gender equality. The study confirms that Sweden (the European country with greater equality in this area) shows more violence against women, both physical and sexual, than Spain (eleventh with greater gender equality).

The survey of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights showed that the prevalence of physical and / or sexual partner violence against women in the European Union was substantially higher in the Nordic countries (32% in Denmark, 30% in Finland and 28% in Sweden) than in the European Union average (22%), and disproportionately higher in the Scandinavian countries than in the countries with the lowest prevalence (13%, among which was Spain).

“In this study, the aim has been to determine whether differences in the prevalence of partner violence against women in two countries that illustrate the Nordic paradox, Sweden and Spain, reflect real differences in prevalence or whether it is the result of some error or bias in the measurement of violence between the two countries”, according to Enrique Gracia.

Thus, the scientific team has developed a psychometric study in which it has analysed the set of questions about the physical and sexual partner violence used in this survey, with various analysis techniques that have included confirmatory factor analysis, reliability and validity analysis, as well as invariance analysis.

The work published in PLOS ONE magazine offers, therefore, a different methodology and that would be the appropriate one to compare partner violence between countries. With it, it is intended to advance in other research on the Nordic paradox, a term coined in a previous research by Enrique Gracia, professor of Social Psychology at the University of Valencia, and Juan Merlo, researcher of Lund University.

In this sense, the research conducted by Enrique Gracia and in which on behalf of the academic institution also Marisol Lila and Manuel Martín Fernández participated, confirms, regarding physical violence, that 89.1% of the Swedish sample has values higher than the Spanish average. The differences between Sweden and Spain regarding sexual violence are more striking: 99.4% of women in the Scandinavian country had higher scores on this factor than the average of Spanish women.

These differences can also be illustrated in terms of the probability of superiority, according to the name of the indicator used. “If a woman were randomly drawn from each country, the probability that a Swedish woman would have a higher score than a Spanish woman would be 80.7% for physical violence, and 96.1% for sexual violence”, Enrique Gracia emphasises.


New studies

This study is relevant because in addition to ruling out that the differences in the prevalence of partner violence against women between Sweden and Spain are the result of a bias in the measurement of violence, it shows that comparisons have to be made ensuring the comparability of the measures that are used (reliable, valid and invariant) so that there is no doubt or uncertainty.

 “The results of the study support the idea of the Nordic paradox, although the reasons why it happens are not yet understood. The Nordic paradox continues to be an important challenge for researchers who aim to better understand this serious social and public health problem, and we need to continue researching to be able to respond more effectively to its prevention and eradication”, according to the research team of the University of Valencia.



Gracia, E., Martín-Fernández, M., Lila, M., Merlo, J. and Ivert, A-K (2019): «Prevalence of intimate partner violence against women in Sweden and Spain: A psychometric study of the ‘Nordic paradox’». PLOS ONE 14(5): e0217015.