An American in Denmark: Investigating the “Happiest Country in the World”

Over a year ago, president-hopeful Bernie Sanders spoke of Denmark as his “American Dream.” But of course—2016’s “happiest nation in the world”  boasts generous welfare for its citizens, little economic disparity, and, well, happy citizens. As a current exchange student in Copenhagen, I have the opportunity to investigate the country that Sanders deemed his socialist haven.  So is Denmark truly as perfect as it seems? And should the US adopt its policies?


  1. “Denmark offers generous welfare for its citizens.”

This is true; Danes have told me that it’s “rare to see homeless people in Denmark,” as the government will provide for you if you are struggling financially. As a result, however, taxes are exceptionally high in this country: the average Danish income tax is around 45 percent (which doesn’t include the flat state tax). So, while the state offers extensive welfare for its citizens, it comes at a relatively hefty price.

  1. “Denmark is socially progressive.”

Without context, this could be true. Denmark is considered one of the most socially progressive liberal countries in the world. But, Denmark is also an extremely homogenous population. When  I walk around the streets of Denmark, I rarely see another person of color. This makes sense, as until recently, Denmark has had a comparably low influx of immigrants (as opposed to say, the US), who mostly come from Western European countries. So, while Denmark can boast equality among its citizens, many of them do come from similar backgrounds.

  1. “The US should adopt Danish government policies.”

Proooobably not. Denmark’s population totals 5.6 million, compared to the US’s whopping 310 million. So while high taxation and generous benefit programs can be comfortably doled out to Danish citizens, the resources would be spread far too thin in the US.

  1. “Denmark’s government is extremely liberal and socialist.”

Recently, there has been a rise in the Danish People’s Party in Denmark: a right-wing, conservative party that opposes immigrants and is damagingly nationalist. So while the Social Democrats are in power, the People’s party is slowly rising in power thanks to xenophobic sentiment in the country. In addition, Denmark is not a socialist economy: it’s a market economy. Property rights are not controlled by the state, and business, labor, trade, and credit regulations are light. Sorry, Marx.

  1. “Danes are so friendly!”

You’re not supposed to say “hey, how are you?” in Denmark. Danes take it as an affront; they don’t know you well enough to answer that question. This is a fair thought process, but it is one that permeates all social interactions. Danes will not go out of their way to be friendly to you, and will give you strange looks if you try to make nice (believe me, I’ve tried cracking a joke or two). But to be fair, alcohol is the great equalizer: the Danes love drinking, and once they drink they love everyone.


Denmark is a spectacular country, and I’m entirely grateful to be studying abroad here. But it (and any other country, for that matter) isn’t as perfect as it seems. So while Denmark is not the socialist haven that media has characterized it as, countries like the US can learn a thing or two from it (and vice versa). And before you get too dissuaded by this article, university is free and students are paid a stipend to go to school in Denmark. So there’s that.