Dating in a Land Where Jante is the Law

If you want to know why you are still single you might try posting a dating profile on a Scandinavian website. According to a friend of mine, online searchers there are brutally honest about why they aren’t interested. This is painful for her, undoubtedly, but very informative for us because it helps us understand cultural tendencies that can leave accomplished singles out in the cold.

The Law of Jante represents the inclination of communities, specifically Scandinavian communities, to see the act of becoming personally successful as inappropriate.

I am not an expert on Scandinavian culture, obviously, but this isn’t the first time I have come across this cultural perspective. For the past eight years I have lived in a community in Canada where many believe that being better educated or having a higher income is something that should be considered a source of shame. It is the only place, for example, where I have been openly mocked for owning a nice car (drivers of Volvo station wagons everywhere will be surprised to know that their car is worthy of such scorn).

This may sound completely foreign to a generation that has grown up being told that personal accomplishment is a source of pride, but even among individualistic Americans there are no doubt pockets in which the Law of Jante applies.  

In rural communities, for example, people have in the past been encouraged to put the needs of the community above personal ambition.

Or within lower socio-economic groups in which personal ambition is met with the attitude “Oh, so you think you are better than the rest of us?”

Or, frankly, among some groups of women who think that those of us who are independent have somehow let the whole team down.

For my friend living in Scandinavia, dating in a community in which Jante is the Law this means the men she meets tell her outright that they are not interested because her decision to invest in an advanced education demonstrates a lack of character. So now she is searching on the much smaller market of men who might be willing to love her despite her poor judgment – presumably those who have made the same choices.

The irony here is these cultural attitudes should promote economic equality. In an age in which both men and women are becoming educated and successful, however, attitudes like this will have the opposite effect. When the well-educated are encouraged only to marry the well-educated, economic class systems are reinforced and rich households become much richer than poor households.

At the end of next week my time on Canada’s east coast is coming to an end as I pack my bags and head for the west coast of Canada. In September you will be able to find me happily teaching at the University of British Columbia. There is no plan for an Economics of Sex and Love class yet, but give me a year and I will see what I can do.

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