2. Finland, a high-performing and trusting society

Important drivers of institutional trust include whether public institutions deliver as expected by the citizens – and as promised by the government – and how they deliver; that is, through which processes and based on what values these outcomes are achieved. The interviews conducted as part of this case study demonstrated that the notion of a trust-based governance is deeply enshrined in the ethos of civil servants as a key element for the smooth functioning of the public administration and fulfilment of its mandate.

Maintaining high levels of trust across different players in the society is included in the Government Programme as a “key condition for building a socially sustainable society”. Accordingly, maintaining and reinforcing people’s trust in their institutions is a guiding principle of the Public Administration Strategy and its implementation plan, currently being prepared, and that will set the principles for the reform of the public administration and public services in the years to come.

The starting point in Finland is high, as results achieved by the Finnish society over the past decades are impressive.1 Both individual and institutional trust levels have been traditionally high in Finland (Section 1.1), socio-economic outcomes are strong (Section 2.4) and citizens are, in general, satisfied with public services, which also display a perform rather well (Section 2.5). Furthermore, jointly with its Nordic neighbours, Finland has one of the highest levels of subjective well-being in the world (OECD, 2020[1]). Among the factors explaining this outcome are institutional quality and social cohesion (Martela et al., 2020[2]).

Nonetheless, it is necessary to go beyond these numbers and understand what matters to the Finnish citizens, including from the perspective of those that may be excluded or feel that they are left behind. In 2019, Finnish people considered health and social security (48%) as well as the environment and climate change (35%) as the top two issues of concern – well above issues such as unemployment (15%), pensions (8.7%) or crime (2.8%) (Figure 2.1). While fighting the COVID-19 health and economic crisis is certainly the most urgent public policy challenge at the moment of writing this report, these pre-existing concerns have not disappeared and may come back in an even more acute way. The major shock to the health system brought about by the COVID-19 emergency can provide important lessons to inform the health and social security reform envisaged by the Finnish government, as well as how to tackle globally and rapidly the pressure of environment and climate change.

In addition to more than 35 interviews with different institutional stakeholders and representatives from the Finnish society and desktop research, 2 main sources of quantitative information informed this case study: 1) the Citizens’ Pulse Survey, in which the core OECD questions on interpersonal and institutional trust were included; 2) a specific household survey designed by the OECD (OECD Trust Survey) based on the OECD Guidelines on Measuring Trust and other case studies was fielded by Statistics Finland as part of its Consumer Confidence Survey in August 2020 (see Box 2.1)

Some key findings from the survey are presented below. Consistent with most surveys on institutional trust in Finland, the police is the most trusted institution, reaching an average of 8.1 (Figure 2.2). Such trust levels are also high in comparative terms (Figure 2.3). Nonetheless, according to Eurostat, in 2018 Finland had 139.4 police officers per 100 000 inhabitants, the lowest figure among European countries with available information (the average is 359.6 for 32 European countries).

High levels of trust in the police could be explained by high-quality education and continuous training for police officers, as well as by an emphasis on responsibility and strict abidance to law and procedures by police representatives. The perception of high ethical standards and almost inexistent corruption cases involving police representatives may also help to explain these figures. In addition, police officers work closely with the community to build ties that could be maintained over time. For instance, during the spring 2020 lockdown, the police relied heavily on communication campaigns, including through social media, as a key tool for influencing people’s behaviour.

Still, the latest Police Barometer found that only 53% of respondents considered that the Finnish police treated people from other cultural backgrounds in the same way (Vuorensyrjä and Rauta, 2020[3]). In a recent interview, the police commissioner indicated that while this could be driven by the fact that migrants come from contexts where low trust in the police is prevalent, it also indicates that there is room to improve relations with minority communities, including through recruiting people from different backgrounds (Mac Dougall, 2020[4]).

Consistent with data from Eurobarometer (see Figure 1.1) trust in the civil service2 is higher than trust in government. The relatively strong trust that Finnish citizens have in law and order institutions and the civil service seems to define Finland. As emphasised by Lehtonen and De Carlo (2019[5]): “Legalism – belief in the power of law and order – is the mental backbone of Finland. To simplify, the primary object of institutional trust is the state bureaucracy in Finland (…).”

In turn, institutions of a clear political nature, in this case the parliament, tend to be the least trusted, hence with a very similar value as local government. Despite the fact that institutions of a political nature are less trusted in relative terms, support of democracy still remains strong in Finland.

On the one hand, and according to the Eurobarometer, 85% of the citizens in Finland are either very satisfied or fairly satisfied with democracy, which is only slightly lower than the average of Denmark, Norway and Sweden (87%), but significantly higher than the EU average (59%). Since 1993, this satisfaction with democracy has been increasing significantly (Figure 2.3) with only some minor fluctuations during shorter time periods (e.g. between 2004 and 2010). On the contrary, and as shown in the previous chapter, levels of political efficacy and voter turnout in Finland have decreased over time (see  Figure 1.2). These big differences could be related to the fact that according to Finnish tradition and historical background, the prevalent model of democracy in the country exceeds the procedural conception, hence citizenship, and evaluations at the system level are linked not only to political rights, but also to social rights.

Social capital as captured by levels of trust “in most people” is also at a comparatively high level (seven out of ten) in Finland. Social capital has been conceptualised and measured in four main ways: 1) personal relationships; 2) social network support; 3) civic engagement; and 4) trust and co-operative norms (Scrivens and Smith, 2013[6]). The evidence suggests that social capital can be of key importance in contributing to a wide range of positive outcomes, including higher income, life satisfaction and social cohesion (OECD, 2001[7]). Moreover, there is evidence that high levels of social capital make people’s well-being more resilient to crisis (Helliwell, Huang and Wang, 2014[8]). Social capital reduces transaction costs related to distrust and has been acknowledged as a fundamental building block of democracy (Putnam, 2020[9]).

Trust placed in strangers facilitates co-operation. While knowledge-based trust, that is, trusting the individuals in one’s own close social network (particularised trust) is important, it does not necessarily have benefits for the society or co-operation (Rothstein and Stolle, 2003[10]). If people trust that they can rely on each other, it is more likely that they will be able to overcome different types of social dilemmas that require co-operation by reducing free-riding tendency, reducing the need – and costs – of control and sanctions. Overcoming such social dilemma is perhaps the single most important challenge faced by societies (Ostrom, 2000[11]). Such trust in other people is based on the ethical assumption that the others share one’s fundamental values; it is this recognition of having common grounds that makes co-operation possible (Uslaner, 2001[12]).

In general, Nordic countries are known for performing well in this key aspect of social capital, which is generalised interpersonal trust, and it has been argued this can be explained by the high degree of economic equality, the low level of patronage and corruption, and the predominance of universal non-discriminating welfare programmes (Rothstein and Stolle, 2003[10]). Finland even seems to have particularly high levels of interpersonal trust (Lisakka, 2006[13]) (Figure 2.4). According to Eurobarometer, in 2019, almost 82% of the citizens reported that they tended to agree with the affirmation that most people can be trusted,3 while only 9.5% tend to believe that one cannot be too careful in dealing with people (Figure 2.5), which places Finland the highest among European countries with available information. This strong level of social capital has positive implications for the ability of the Finnish society to jointly solve collective action problems (Borg, Toikka and Primmer, 2015[14]).

Like interpersonal trust, trust in institutions is high in Finland compared to the EU average, at a level similar to that of other Nordic countries (Figure 2.6). Trust in Finland is comparatively high for both political (e.g. parliament) and administrative institutions (e.g. public administration). Of all the institutions surveyed, political parties is the only category for which reported trust levels are lower in Finland than the average of other Nordic countries.

Finally, many studies find a strong and robust correlation between interpersonal and institutional trust (Zmerli, Newton and Montero, 2008[15]; Denter, Oscar and Torcal, 2007[16]; Jagodzinski and Manabe, 2004[17]). A previous study in Finland found that interpersonal trust seems to have a strong impact on all levels of political trust, while the influence of the degree of voluntary organisational activity, as another key component of social capital, is less evident for explaining political trust (Bäck and Kestilä, 2009[18]). Another study found that in Finland, unlike in other Nordic countries, the level of interpersonal trust can explain differences in institutional trust at the individual level, but not over time variations of political trust. This seems to be rather determined by institutional performance, e.g. its handling of the economy, the government’s involvement in political scandals or the perceived effectivity coalition governments (Kestilä-Kekkonen and Söderlund, 2016[19]).

Recent comparative evidence from Europe studying the determinants of populism finds that although different types of distrust are associated with unwanted consequences in terms of favouring populism, they result from different factors; while distrust in institutions is associated with economic insecurity, low levels of interpersonal trust are associated with loneliness and mobility in post-industrial societies (Algan et al., 2019[20]).

While trust averages provide an indication of the general picture in Finland, more attention could be given to the degree of equality of trust within the country, as there are important differences among socio-economic groups. Analyses based on the Finnish National Election Survey from 2015 indicate that even if the overall level of generalised trust in Finland is high, it tends to accumulate in certain social groups, namely “the winners” of society. Higher education, good health, optimism about the future, participation in voluntary associations and trust in implementing institutions were all significant factors in estimating the level of generalised trust in Finland (Bäck and Kestilä-Kekkonen, 2019[21]).

Results captured through the OECD Trust Survey included in the Consumer Confidence Survey in Finland shows that average trust levels, particularly in the local government and the civil service, tend to be higher for people living in the Helsinki-Uusimaa region compared to other regions of Finland (Figure 2.7). Citizens in Helsinki-Uusimaa reported thae mean of 6.4 in trust in local government, whereas people in the Eastern and Northern Finland region reported a mean of 6.05, a difference that is statistically significant. On the contrary, Eastern and Northern Finland systematically reports the lowest average trust levels in all institutions. The widest gap between this region and Helsinki-Uusima were observed for trust in the civil service (0.5). The difference in means of trust in the civil service were also significant between the Capital region and the Southern Finland region.

The Eastern and Northern Finland region covers about 67% of Finland’s land area and is the most sparsely populated region. Inhabitants of Eastern and Northern Finland experience lower economic and well-being outcomes than Finland on average and have to travel further to access services, including health and social services, which should be taken into consideration in the implementation of the health and social services reform (see Section 2.3).

Looking at levels of institutional trust among citizens by level of education, people with a higher tertiary degree report systematically higher trust in different political and administrative institutions than less educated people (Figure 2.8). In the Finnish context, where education has an important equalising role and promotes social mobility, the positive relationship between level of education and institutional trust is associated with a high-quality system of democratic governance and low levels of corruption (Hakhverdian and Mayne, 2012[22]). However, people with lower levels of education may be more inclined to feel stigmatised and face difficulties in finding a positive social identity, which could result in support for populist groups (Spuryt, Keppens and VanDroogenbroeck, 2016[23]).

Regardless of their level of education, citizens have the highest trust in the civil service and the lowest in local government. On average, the population with the highest education rates trust in the civil service is 7.83 on a scale of 1-10, while they report an average trust level of local government of 6.89. Correspondingly, citizens with a lower level education report an average rate of 6.57 of trust in the civil service whereas their trust in local government was, on average, 6.20. The largest gap in average trust between the highest and lowest educated population is in trust in the Finnish government and in the civil service.

An identical pattern is detected when looking at the average levels of trust in key political and administrative institutions across self-reported income groups. Empirical results indicate that income inequality affects citizens’ trust in institutions. The analysis finds that Finnish citizens with higher self-reported income display higher trust levels than their counterparts with lower self-reported income (Figure 2.9). This is especially the case in citizens’ trust in the civil service, where the difference (0.73) between the higher and lower income groups is much more significant than it is in trust in the Finnish (0.41) and local government (0.35). The lowest levels of institutional trust are reported by Finnish citizens who report a monthly gross income of EUR 1 400 to EUR 2 399 per month.

People of foreign origin living in Finland tend to exhibit higher levels of trust in political and administrative institutions than the native-born population. This seems to be a trend in many European countries. The population with a foreign origin is generally more likely than the native-born population to trust the political and administrative system. A variety of factors may drive these slightly higher levels of trust, including a relative comparison with the situation in their country of origin, as the population with a foreign origin may have lower levels of expectations of institutions or have more positive evaluations of the host society (OECD, 2017[24]).

The empirical analysis shows that the only institution for which the difference between the foreign-origin and native-born populations is not statistically significant is the police. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the native-born population has more trust in the police than the foreign-origin population (or vice versa). However, as indicated during the interviews, perceptions and evaluations vis-à-vis the police could be influenced by people’s experience in their own country. Another study carried out in Finland seems to indicate that an individual experience of bad policing did not seem to erode trust in the police. This could indicate that institutional trust in Finland is a more general phenomenon that does beyond an evaluation of the quality of policing (Kaariainen, 2008[25]).

The available data do not allow examining whether trust differs between a first-generation immigrant and their descendants; it should be noted that compared to other European countries, migration in Finland is a rather recent phenomena and the proportion of second-generation migrants is low. Still, measuring trust of the descendants of first-generation immigrants would be important for policy makers to see how the society serves citizens with different ethnic backgrounds, as there is some evidence of intolerance and racism towards ethnic minorities (OECD, 2021[26]). According to a study carried out by the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, racist discrimination was a widespread phenomenon widely underreported for lack of confidence that it would result to any changes in behaviour (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2020[204]).

Finally, trust in institutions may differ from one age group to another depending partially on how well public institutions meet the expectations of different age groups. In some OECD countries, such as Chile, Greece or Hungary, younger cohorts report lower trust levels than their older peers (OECD, 2019[27]). However, based on Gallup trust data, in the Nordic countries, young citizens report higher trust in the national government than older citizens (OECD, 2019[27]).

According to the data from the OECD Trust Survey, in Finland there are not significant differences in trust in political and administrative institutions between different age groups. The data suggest that young Finns, namely 18-29 year olds, are less interested in traditional politics but feel more empowered that they can have an impact in politics than their peers in older age cohorts, especially those aged 30-49 (Figure 2.11). In Finland as elsewhere, youth have suffered significantly from COVID-19 effects. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, young citizens have had a higher probability of losing their job or facing difficulties finding one; they have also experienced a bigger drop in well-being than citizens in other age groups, on average. They are also expected to bear a heavy part of the socio-economic effects of the crisis. Notwhistanding, comparative evidence in Europe during the COVID-19 emergency shows that young people reported higher trust in national and supranational institutions (European Union) than citizens in older age cohorts (Mascherini and Eszter, 2020[28]). In turn, while women reported slightly higher trust in government than men, this trend is not consistent across different institutions and does not allow any gender-related patterns on institutional trust levels to be drawn.

This section has shown that although the level of trust in institutions is high in Finland, Finns with a lower education, a lower income and those who live outside of the capital region report significantly lower levels of trust in various institutions. Decision makers could put more emphasis on factors leading to lower levels of trust from specific social groups. Among the causes researchers indicate to explain these inequalities in institutional trust are the complexity of the political and administrative system, which causes make it difficult for citizens to understand the political decision-making process, and at what level decisions are taken. Furthermore, the language of politics and administration can cause confusion. Policy makers should concentrate on making policies for different groups and empowering groups with lower trust to engage and participate in the political fora. It is vital to have diversity in the policy-making bodies that represent the citizens. One example would be including minority groups. Similar conclusions have been reached in the OECD Civic Space Scan for Finland (OECD, 2021[26]).

As elsewhere in the world, an external shock of the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic will have impacts on the Finnish economy and society. As mentioned earlier, academic evidence shows that economic shocks have a direct impact on levels of institutional trust (Algan et al., 2019[20]; Ananyev and Guriev, 2019[29]). However, these effects could be attenuated by welfare measures that could cushion the effects of those shocks. The Finnish government took early measures for constraining the spread of COVID-19 and by doing so avoided overwhelming the health system and succeeded in containing numbers of confirmed cases and deaths per capita to levels lower than in most OECD countries. In mid-May, Finland adopted a “hybrid” strategy, shifting the focus of containment measures from confinement to more extensive testing and tracing, border control, and targeted regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged Finland into a deep recession, albeit milder than in most other countries, partly thanks to more targeted confinement measures and a relatively small loss of mobility (see Figure 2.12). The economy is projected to shrink by 3.3% in 2020 and recover gradually with growth of 2.1% in 2021 and 1.8% in 2022, led by private consumption and exports (OECD, 2020[30]). Despite the fact that the first shock in Finland has been comparatively small, the depth and pace of the recovery will depend on the success of the vaccination campaign, whether or not there are new waves of COVID-19 caused by variants, and the effects they will have in the exports market and businesses’ operation.

The Finnish government has carried out expansionary measures amounting to 5.4% of gross domestic product (GDP). Such measures, most of which were projected to terminate by the end of 2020, have been aimed at protecting jobs and supporting households and business income during the crisis. The government also mobilised financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises and microenterprises and provided support for hard-hit industries, such as air and sea transportation, restaurants and cafés. It also reduced firms’ tax burdens and social security contributions temporarily, easing cash flow, and limited creditors’ right to petition for bankruptcy on the basis of a debtor’s temporary insolvency until 31 October 2020 (OECD, 2020[30]). Still, the Finnish Ministry of Finance expects that private consumption and investment will substantially decrease as public debt spikes. All in all, the mild economic growth expected for the next couple of years will not be enough to balance the general government budgetary position and Finland’s general government finances will remain in deficit in the coming years (Ministry of Finance, 2020[31]). According to the OECD, the projected deficit in 2020 will amount to 8.2% of GDP in 2020.

Beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, there are structural challenges faced by the Finnish economy to be addressed, not only for helping the recovery, but for strengthening the economic foundations and ensuring the robustness of the Finnish economy in the years to come. These include, for instance, increasing productivity, boosting employment, achieving fiscal consolidation and meeting greenhouse gas reduction objectives (OECD, 2020[30]). A key challenge for the Finnish economy is increasing employment levels. In May 2020, unemployment in Finland was 7% (Figure 2.13), slightly above the EU-27 average. Moreover, unemployment increased by 0.3 percentage points between February and May 2020 (OECD, 2020[32]). The Finnish government has set an objective to create 80 000 new jobs, which will be crucial not only for boosting employment, but also for reducing the structural budget deficit. Still, boosting employment will rely on the pace of economic activity as well as on extending the working life of older workers (OECD, 2020[30]). As previously indicated, research has shown that economic insecurity is a cause of institutional distrust (Algan et al., 2019[20]).

A key aspect that has contributed to building and maintaining high levels of institutional trust in Finland is the perception that the system delivers for all people and that Finland is a fair society (see Box 1.1). Figure 2.14 shows the Gini coefficient (a measure of income distribution within a society) before and after government taxes and transfers. Alongside other Scandinavian countries, Finland (0.27) is amongst the group of countries with lower Gini coefficient scores after taxes and transfers. Furthermore, Finland is the country where the government plays a larger redistributive role (0.25 points between the before and after taxes and transfer measures). The generous welfare system in Finland has been recognised as a lever explaining the high levels of institutional trust (CMI, 2013[33]).

Still, measures of economic performance and inequality should be complemented with measures of happiness or life satisfaction to fully grasp how a society is doing and endorsing an agenda that looks beyond GDP (Stiglitz, Fitoussi and Durand, 2018[34]). Happiness is considered an ultimate goal of life; virtually everybody wants to be happy (Frey and Stutzer, 2002[35]). When asked to rate their general satisfaction with life on a scale of 0-10 for the OECD Better Life Index, Finns on average gave it a 7.6 grade, much higher than the OECD average of 6.5. The 2020 World Happiness Report confirms that impression, with four Nordic countries in the top five happiest nations, and Finland at the top. Among the reasons explaining this comparatively high performance are: a well-functioning democracy; generous and effective social welfare benefits; low levels of crime and corruption; and satisfied citizens who feel free and trust each other and governmental institutions (Martela et al., 2020[2]).

Nonetheless, both the World Happiness Report and the Better Life Index rank the well-being of populations based on national averages. The average level of subjective well-being tells us something about the overall level of well-being in a country, but it does not give us any insight into how that well-being is distributed (Andreasson, 2018[36]). Again, understanding who feels unhappy and why is needed to tailor relevant policy advice and ensure that nobody is left behind.

The challenging economic outlook and measures taken to steer the economy out of the crisis are expected to have a salient role in public debate in the years to come. Tensions between the implementation of recovery measures alongside planned reforms (e.g. in education, health and social care) on the one hand and achieving budgetary balance and reducing public debt, both of which are culturally very important in Finland, on the other hand are expected to frame government actions in the years to come.

The process for reaching and implementing decisions for coping with effects brought about by COVID-19 as well as communicating them to people will certainly play a role in strengthening or weakening institutional trust in the years to come. Historically, hardships resulting from external shocks are not foreign to Finland, which has proven itself to have an economy and society highly resilient to external shocks. While a lot of uncertainty lies ahead in terms of what the total impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be, the economic measures put forward by the government have greatly contributed to softening the shock and maintaining people’s well-being. Implementing the necessary economic reforms for achieving consolidation while safeguarding and strengthening the key features of the welfare model will be of essence for maintaining institutional trust.

Public services contribute to people’s lives in several ways. They are essential for building the stock of human capital in a society and for levelling the field for people to have equal opportunity in life to use their capabilities. Public services also support people in difficult situations and help them to alleviate the impact of negative shocks throughout their lives. Finally, public services are the most tangible aspect of what people get in return for their taxes. It is expected that high-quality services would lead to high institutional trust. The transmission mechanism has been referred to in the literature as the micro-performance hypothesis: better quality public services can lead to more satisfied users, which in turn can generate increased trust in government (Van de Walle and Bouckaert, 2003[37]; Yang and Holzer, 2006[38]).

In Finland, government revenue as a share of GDP, which is high by OECD standards, contributes to high-quality public services and, as highlighted in the previous section, low and relatively stable income inequality (OECD, 2018[39]). In particular, general government expenditures on social protection in Finland represented 24.9% of GDP in 2017, marking it the largest share among the OECD countries (whose average was 13.3%) (OECD, 2019[27]).

According to the survey carried out for this study, 50% of the Finnish population reports having had a recent experience with the education system, because they or their children have been enrolled in it over the last two years. In turn, 80% of the population reported having had a direct experience with the health system in the course of the last year. On average, for people having had a recent experience, satisfaction with the health and education systems is comparatively high, and it is slightly higher for education (84% of the population reported a score between 7 and 10) than for health services (79% of the population reported a score of 7-10) (see Box 2.2 on the importance of recent experience in Finland).

When it comes to quality of services, Finland fares extremely well in comparative terms. According to the Better Life Index dataset, Finland ranks as the top OECD country in education. In Finland, 88% of adults aged 25-64 have completed an upper secondary education, higher than the OECD average of 78%. This is truer for women than for men, as 85% of men have successfully completed high school compared to 91% of women. Finland is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system. The average student scored 523 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is much higher than the OECD average of 486. On average in Finland, girls outperformed boys by 24 points, considerably more than the average OECD gap of 2 points. In addition, Finns aged 15 are the third-most satisfied with their lives among same-age young people in OECD countries (OECD, 2019[40]). Reflecting these excellent performance indicators, citizens’ satisfaction with the education system and schools is indeed among the highest in the OECD and increased between 2007 and 2018 (Figure 2.16).

Finland is a rapidly ageing society. According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, life expectancy has increased and at the same time the age of first-time mothers has risen and birth rates have declined. The share of people over 65 will increase from the current 22% to 26% by 2030 and to 29% by 2060 (THL 2021). In turn, in 2019, Finns identified “health and social security” as their number one concern (Figure 2.1). One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 crisis is that it has put health systems under acute and constant stress and, in some contexts, they have been simply overwhelmed. Acting early to contain the spread of the virus was especially prudent for Finland because it had fewer hospital beds by international comparison (Figure 2.17), making it vital to flatten the infection curve early to avoid overwhelming the hospital capacity. In turn, the total number of ventilators in Finland, required for Intensive Care Units (ICUs), was about 1 000 at the beginning of the pandemic, 280 of which were located in the Uusimaa region (WHO; European Comission; and European Observatory of Health System and Policies, 2020[41]). After the declaration of the Emergency Powers Act, the government instructed all emergency care services to streamline their activities and hospitals in the Uusimaa region to increase their ICU capacity. All hospital districts trained more nurses and doctors to work in ICUs. ICU capacity has not been exceeded in any region since the beginning of the pandemic.

Finland was more successful in containing the COVID-19 epidemic than most other OECD countries. The cumulative incidence of confirmed cases and excess mortality rate by mid-August were lower than in most other countries and about 90% of confirmed cases hospitalised had recovered by late June. Finland succeeded in putting the death rate on a downward path when the total death rate was relatively low by international comparison. These outcomes are similar to the other Nordic countries, with the exception of Sweden (OECD, 2020[30]).

While Finland has universal health coverage, there are some features of health service need to be considered, for example OECD research shows that it is among the bottom third performers with respect to “unmet health services”, mainly because of waiting times4 (OECD, 2019[42]). Figure 2.18 displays the difficulties reported by people when seeking access to health services. In 2016, about a third of the Finnish population reported experiencing a delay for getting a medical appointment, an increase of 6.3 percentage points from 2011.

In addition, the “share of out-of-pocket expenditure5 in household consumption” for healthcare is relatively high in Finland (OECD, 2019[27]). By integrating primary healthcare, specialised hospital care and social welfare services in the regions, the proposed healthcare reform aims to improve co-ordination as well as the system’s overall performance. However, the governance of this reform has been complex and its enactment and application postponed several times over the last 15 years. Yet, the government is committed to push it forward before the end of its term (see Section 2.3).

The preoccupation for health issues is, in particular, an issue for older segments of the population. More elderly people in Finland report poor health compared to the other Nordic countries: 9.5% of Finns in the 70-79 age group say that they have poor health, and for the oldest group (80+), the figure is 15.1%. By comparison, the figures for Norway are 7.5% and 11.4% respectively, and for Denmark 4.4% and 10.6% (Andreasson, 2018[36]). Indeed, while life expectancy has improved in Finland over the past two decades, many of these additional years of life are spent with some chronic diseases and disabilities, raising demands on health and long-term care systems (OECD, 2019[42]).

Also, while Finns aged 15-59 report feeling healthier than those in the other Nordic countries, younger Finns seem to grapple more with mental health problems, manifesting themselves in the form of stress, depression, anxiety, self-harm, consumption of antidepressants and, in extreme cases, suicide. In Finland, despite the overall high level of satisfaction with life and happiness, suicide is responsible for one-third of all deaths among 15-24 year olds (Andreasson, 2018[36]).

Nonetheless, despite these challenges, on average, citizen satisfaction with the healthcare system in Finland is higher than the OECD average and increased between 2007 and 2018 (Figure 2.20).

In addition to health and education, which are the most broadly considered public services, other (social) public services are key for improving people’s quality of life. Figure 2.21 shows levels of satisfaction with four social services in Finland and some neighbouring and similar countries. Along with education and healthcare, access to services such as childcare and housing are key means to address inequalities and the transmission of inequalities across generations. In general, Finland displays high average levels of satisfaction with childcare and housing, differences that are statistically significant in most cases.

Trust in institutions declines when people feel insecure about their income in old age; however, if they consider that the state pension system in their country is of good quality, their overall trust in institutions is considerably higher (Eurofound, 2019[44]). Finns report high satisfaction with their state pension system, a difference that is statistically significant with similar countries under study. Pensions in Finland are almost entirely publicly financed; however, ageing related costs driven by pension and health expenditures are a source of rising fiscal pressures, hence the pension system may need additional reforms to remain viable if the fertility rate, which is comparatively low, fails to recover (OECD, 2020[30]).

An ageing population also increases the need for long-term care services, particularly home-care and community-based services. Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden provide a relatively high proportion of publicly funded residential or nursing home-care services. While Finns stand as the most satisfied with their long-term care services, it is crucial to reflect on the provision model, the adaptation of services to new technologies and their sustainability in the context of an ageing population (Eurofound, 2019[44]).

A further key public service is guaranteeing safety and security. Indeed, personal security is a core element for an individual’s well-being. According to the 2019 OECD Better Life Index, in Finland, about 85% of people feel safe walking alone at night, more than the OECD average of 68%. However, violence against women remains high compared to other OECD countries. Thirty per cent of women in Finland have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lives, compared to 22% in the OECD on average (OECD, 2021[45]). Violence and intimate partner violence are among the biggest challenges to the enjoyment of civic freedoms in Finland (OECD, 2021[26]).

In turn, according to the latest OECD data, Finland’s homicide rate is 1.3 murders per 100 000 inhabitants, lower than the OECD average of 3.7. Data from Eurobarometer 2019 shows that 93% of Finns trust the police, which is significantly higher than the EU average of 72% and higher than that of Sweden (87%) and Denmark (91%), but slightly lower than Iceland (94%).

With respect to providing infrastructure, Finland’s score in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019 is close to the OECD average, and better than Norway and Iceland, but slightly worse than Denmark and Sweden (World Economic Forum, 2019[46]) (Figure 2.22). This indicator measures both the quality of different components of the existing transport infrastructure and the utilities infrastructure. In particular, the indicator for transport infrastructure, however, is below the OECD average.

The OECD Trust Survey carried out as part of this case study allows, for the first time, a comprehensive analysis on the determinants of trust in Finland.

The survey includes ten situational questions to investigate people’s perception and evaluation of public institutions’ responsiveness, reliability, integrity, openness and fairness. In Finland, fairness – measured by equal treatment, reliability – measured as capacity to contain diseases, and openness – measured by ease to access information, received the most positive assessment by survey respondents (Figure 2.23, Panel A). Similar questions were fielded in Germany, Italy, Korea, Slovenia and the United States (through a similar country study in Korea (see Box 2.3) and through the Trustlab project; (Murtin et al., 2018[47])). With the exception of openness, Finland is the top performer in all the dimensions of the framework. For example, 62% of the Finnish population (the highest) considered the government fair, while this percentage was 23% in Korea (the lowest) in 2018. Compared to the other countries with available data, Finland displays the highest percentage of the population with a positive opinion on all the dimensions with the exception of openness (e.g. possibility to raise concerns if a decision affecting the community is to be taken), where the average score is higher for the United States (Figure 2.23, Panel B).

The analysis presented in the following pages focuses on three main trust indicators. Trust in the central government is the most widely used statistic in the field of trust and captures both political and institutional factors (OECD/KDI, 2018[48]; Algan, 2018[49]). The other two main trust indicators are trust in the local government and trust in the civil service. While these three concepts are not exclusive and some overlap exists between them, analysing them independently could provide insight on the determinants of trust at different levels as well as guidance on how to prioritise action aimed at influencing trust levels. Before analysing the results in greater detail, it should be considered that the data collection took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, these exceptional circumstances that have altered people’s lives and affected the economic and social context could therefore be influencing responses to the survey.

The three institutional variables referred to above are regressed on different trust determinants through stepwise regressions6 (See Annex B). Figure 2.24 shows the determinants of trust in government. In each case, the policy dimension is given in brackets followed by the specific situations according to the OECD questionnaire. The most important explanatory factor of trust in government is the responsiveness of public services, meaning the extent to which people consider that they will be adapted to respond to their needs and views. If the responsiveness of services increases by one standard deviation, trust in government will increase by 0.5 points. The second highest factor influencing trust in government is the belief that public institutions are doing enough to address future challenges. Reliability of government, measured by the stability of regulatory and fiscal conditions, is also an element influencing trust in government, as is the perception of integrity by high-level public officials, particularly on what refers to their potential behaviour when mediating private interests.

Four additional elements beyond the OECD framework appear as determinants of trust in government in Finland. In agreement with previous literature, interpersonal trust, as a measure of social capital, influences trust in government in Finland (Bäck and Kestilä, 2009[18]). Second, the level of external political efficacy, or the perception of having a say in government decisions affecting them, explains levels of trust in government. Finally, two individual characteristics influence trust in government in Finland: 1) gender, with women trusting the government more than men; and 2) political orientation, with opinions to the right of the political spectrum resulting in low levels of trust.

Approximately two-thirds of public services in Finland are provided by the municipalities. Self-governing municipalities provide services including preventive and basic healthcare, dental healthcare, social services, education (excluding universities), and cultural services (public libraries, youth services and sports facilities, etc.), infrastructure and land use, promotion of the local economy and employment, and inspection functions (such as food safety, animal welfare, environmental protection, parking and public transport payments).

When analysing the causes of trust in the local government, some differences appear with respect to trust in the central government. While interpersonal trust and the responsiveness of services are statistically significant on the level of trust in local governments, as it is for trust in government, people’s capacity to participate and express their views on public decisions affecting them (one of the aspects measured as part of the openness dimension), appeared as the second-most important factor influencing trust in the local government (Figure 2.25). Other statistically significant factors influencing trust in local government include the capacity of civil servants to innovate, perceptions of high standards of integrity, in particular related to the revolving door, preparedness of the health sector for fighting new diseases, and the belief that public institutions are doing enough to maintain social cohesion (Figure 2.25).

The third factor refers to trust in the civil service. Public servants are directly responsible for exercising public authority and it is with them that people have the most interactions. Moreover, they represent public values and are responsible for designing and implementing policies.

Trust in the civil service, which has the highest starting value of the three institutions considered (see Section 1.1), is influenced by elements also captured by trust in government and/or trust in the local government, along with some additional ones. The responsiveness of services, followed by interpersonal trust and the capacity to address future challenges (dimension of reliability) are the key determinants for building trust in the civil service. Although weak, openness – and particularly what relates to having access to information about administrative procedures in a timely and user-friendly manner – is a unique determinant influencing trust in the civil service. In terms of individual characteristics, people in a higher income group tend to trust the civil service slightly more (Figure 2.26).

A summary of the main drivers of trust in the government, local government and civil service is included in Figure 2.27, which shows which drivers are common to the three institutions and which are distinctive.

Figure 2.28 presents the expected changes in the level of trust in government, local government and the civil service following a one standard deviation increase in each of the factors that turned out to be statistically significant. For example, if the different components of competence (i.e. service responsiveness and stability of regulatory conditions) increased by one standard deviation, trust in national government would increase 1.10 points. Similarly, if significant components of values (i.e. refusing a bribe) increased by one standard deviation, trust would increase by 0.18 points.

In the case of local government, an increase of one standard deviation in competences or in values (e.g. engagement opportunities, absence of revolving-door practices) would lead to an increase of 0.52, or 0.50 respectively, in trust. In the case of the civil service, an increase of one standard deviation in competences would lead to an increase of 0.74 in trust and an increase in values to 0.34. Still, for the three trust variables studied, government competences have a higher relative effect than values and particularly what relates to the responsiveness of services and government preparedness about the future.


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← 1. For Independence Day 2019, the Finish statistical office, Statistics Finland, compiled a list of achievements in a range of areas (https://www.stat.fi/tup/tilastokirjasto/itsenaisyyspaiva-2019_en.html). See also some key indicators at: https://data.oecd.org/finland.htm.

← 2. The wording in both surveys is different. While Eurobarometer asks about the public administration, the survey fielded for this study asks about the civil service (Valtionhallinto).

← 3. It has been recognised in other places that the concept of caution in the trust question might be problematic, since being careful could carry quite different connotations for different population subgroups; carefulness might imply something else for someone who is weak and vulnerable compared to an athletic, bright and well-off person. An experiment conducted jointly by the OECD and the UK Office for National Statistics in October 2015 and May 2016 confirms the intuition of a caution rider effect on certain groups, women vs. men and older vs. younger people.

← 4. All residents of Finland, as long as they are registered as living in one of the municipalities, have access to publicly funded health services. The benefit package is broad and covers all services provided by the municipal health system, although waiting times for services vary. Despite waiting time guarantees for primary healthcare and specialised services, long waiting lists are a persistent feature of the Finnish health system. Access is worse for people who are not eligible for occupational healthcare, such as unemployed and retired people. Lack of co-ordination between primary and secondary care settings is another issue, as well as variation in the availability, standards and quality of services. The same is true for co-ordination between health services and social welfare services, although these services are increasingly merged in the municipalities.

← 5. In terms of public spending priorities, the share of government spending allocated to health is lower in Finland than in the EU as a whole and in other Nordic countries, at 13% in 2017 compared to 16% (EU average and Denmark) and 18% (Sweden and Norway). Three-quarters of health spending is financed through public sources (compared to an EU average of 79%), with the remaining 25% paid by private sources (higher than the 15-18% share in other Nordic countries and the EU average of 21%). Most of this private expenditure comes from out-of-pocket payments, of which outpatient medical care, dental care, pharmaceuticals and long-term care account for the majority.

← 6. In statistics, stepwise regression is a method of fitting regression models in which the choice of predictive variables is carried out by an automatic procedure. In each step, a variable is considered for addition to or subtraction from the set of explanatory variables. Only variables adding to the explanatory power of the model are kept.

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