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Finland

 
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Finland

Housing

As part of its overall responsibility to supervise the nation's environment, the Ministry of Environment was charged with overseeing what kinds of buildings and housing Finns worked in and lived in, arranging remedies for existing deficiencies, and guaranteeing adequate conditions in the future. Two of the ministry's four departments, the Physical Planning and Building Department and the Housing Department, were created specifically for these tasks. In addition, the National Board of Housing, which had been created in 1966 to organize the state's administration of housing, was made subordinate to the ministry in 1986.

Efforts to improve the housing of workers began in the nineteenth century, as did arrangements for low-interest mortgages. The 1920s saw the passage of the Housing Corporation Act and the establishment of the Housing Mortgage Bank. It was only after World War II, however, that significant measures were undertaken to subsidize housing through what is known as Arava legislation. These laws were brought together in 1953 by the Housing Production Act, which became the basis of housing policy and which helped to foster the tremendous construction surge of the next two decades.

By the 1980s, it was estimated that about 75 percent of Finnish residential dwellings of all types had been constructed since World War II. For some types of dwellings the figure was even higher. For example, some 70 percent of apartments were built after 1960. Migration, whether voluntary or not, and an upsurge in population growth had made this construction necessary. Population movements during the economic boom caused the first half of the 1970s to be the period of peak construction, when as many as 70,000 units were built in a single year.

By the first half of the 1980s, about 48,000 units were built annually. In addition to a decline in building activity, the kinds of dwellings constructed changed. In the economic boom years, about two-thirds of new dwellings were apartments, and the remainder were free-standing houses or row houses. By 1980 the ratio was reversed. In addition, by the 1980s much construction work was for renovation, and government plans called for the number of buildings restored each year to climb from 15,000 in 1980 to 60,000 by the end of the 1990s.

The construction boom meant that Finns were housed better than before. The number of dwelling units increased from 1.2 million in 1960 to 1.8 million in 1980 and gave them more room. Finnish dwellings were still rather small, however. In the 1980s, their average size was sixty-nine square meters, nine square meters more than in 1970. Much poor standard housing had disappeared during the boom years. The new dwellings had modern conveniences; by 1980 nearly three-quarters of them--compared with only one-half a decade earlier--were fully equipped with hot water, indoor plumbing, central heating, and sewer connections. Although Finnish housing was still somewhat poorer than that of the other Nordic countries, it ranked well by world standards.

About 60 percent of Finns owned their dwellings, and Finns spent, on the average, about 18 percent of their income on housing. Government housing allowances helped people of low income to keep housing expenditures within 10 to 20 percent of this income. Government housing aid came in a number of forms, and it helped people in all income brackets. Housing allowances were paid to low-income groups and to pensioners living either in their own homes or in rental units. Low-interest loans were available to people earning modest incomes who desired to own their own homes. Better-off Finns benefited from tax relief if they had mortgages.

Not all government housing policies were so popular as subsidies, low-interest loans, and tax relief, for some had unfortunate results. The housing program's most serious failure was seen in the often sterile and boring apartment house complexes and even whole suburban developments and towns that were designed and built in the postwar period to meet pressing housing needs. Some planned towns were internationally famed for the beauty of their design. An example was Tapiola, located on the outskirts of Helsinki. Many others, however, provided an ugly and inhumane environment for those obliged to live in them. Often situated far from needed services and lacking softening amenities, the bleak dormitory villages were desolate shelter for newly uprooted migrants from the countryside, and they fostered antisocial behavior, family problems, and illnesses. In later decades, authorities applied resources to these ill-conceived residential areas with the hope of making them more hospitable.

Another problem, less serious, was a shortage of rental units. Some observers held that state rent-control policies had reduced the profits earned by landlords and hence had caused a scarcity of rental properties. The lack of available rental housing particularly affected young people, generally not yet able to purchase their own homes.

* * *

At the end of the 1980s, there was no single scholarly work in English that treated Finnish society as a whole. A number of British works from the 1960s and the 1970s treat many aspects of Finnish society, but they are out of date, and they vary considerably in quality. Of these books, the most readily available and useful is Finland: An Introduction, edited by Sylvie Nickels and others. The 1973 version of this work is available in an edition published in the United States. Patricia Slade Lander's In the Shadow of the Factory: Social Change in a Finnish Community is valuable, but it relies on fieldwork done in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. A noted student of Finland is the geographer William Richard Mead, whose books Finland, How People Live in Finland (written for children), The Aland Islands (written with S. H. Jaatinen), and Winter in Finland: A Study of Human Geography (written with Helmer Smeds) all contain much useful information. Wendy Hall's The Finns and Their Country and John L. Irwin's The Finns and the Lapps are intelligent and popular treatments of Finnish life.

Readers with Swedish could consult Samhallet Finland, an essay-length work dating from 1985, by Finland's renowned sociologist, Erik Allardt. This brief survey of the developments that have transformed Finnish society in the twentieth century will give the reader an understanding of Finland as it was in the 1980s. A festschrift in his honor, Small States in Comparative Perspective: Essays for Erik Allardt, contains articles by leading specialists on topics such as the family in the Nordic countries, the premature mortality of Finnish males, social mobility, and the establishment of Finland's welfare system. This last subject is treated at greater length by Matti Alestalo and Hannu Uusitalo in their detailed and sophisticated article appearing in the first volume of the series Growth to Limits: The Western European Welfare States Since World War II, edited by Peter Flora. Matti Alestalo's Structural Change, Classes and the State: Finland in an Historical and Comparative Perspective provides a learned exposition of the country's class structure. Nordic Democracy, edited by Erik Allardt and others, treats Nordic Europe as a whole, but it contains much information about Finnish society. The detailed bibliographies accompanying these scholarly works will guide the curious reader further.

Brochures and pamphlets published by the Finnish government in English are available from Finnish embassies around the world. These publications are quite informative about the welfare and the education systems, the role of women, and other aspects of Finnish society.

Encyclopedic in its coverage of Finland is the series of atlases published by the Finnish government's National Board of Survey. The series' excellent maps graphically convey astonishingly detailed data about many aspects of Finnish society, and they are complemented by expert articles. English translations of the articles appearing in some of the atlases are available. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1988

Finland - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • The Society and Its Environment

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