Critique of work and the meaning of retirement in the Swedish FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement c. 2010-2025

Lilla salen Session 3: The long road to the welfare state… and beyond: retirement, old-age provision and eldercare in the past and present organized by Jaco Zuijderduijn and Tobias Karlsson


Charlotte Nilsson


Over the last decade, proponents of the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement have been increasingly present in the public and media sphere in various countries, not least Sweden. In books, blogs, social media accounts and newspaper interviews, men and women in their 20s and 30s describe their determination to reappropriate the time usurped by the contemporary capitalist lifestyle of constant work and consumption – they want to quit their jobs!

Originating from the US, the basic idea of FIRE is to live extremely frugally for a limited period (around 10 years), invest all income surplus in low-cost index funds and by the age of 40 be able to stop working and instead live the rest of your life off capital income. While the desire to skip the “rat race” has emerged in various contexts throughout the industrial capitalist period, the technique for “ordinary” wage earners to strive for financial independence and early retirement through stock-market investments has not been seen before. FIRE followers’ beliefs and endeavors seem to result in a paradoxical moral economy of, on the one hand, resisting cornerstones of late-capitalist society – wage labour, over-consumption, and household debt – while, on the other, consenting to the power of the financial markets and relying completely on the continued growth of capital invested in it. Moreover, FIRE presupposes that retirement – escaping salaried work – is the most desirable state in life.

A new research project, funded by the Swedish Research Council 2023-26 (project leader Charlotte Nilsson), will explore FIRE both as lived reality (for the few) and sociocultural imaginary (for the many). The conference paper will focus on the ideological aspects that concern work-criticism and retirement in the light of the Swedish political-economic development. Globally, the FIRE movement has emerged against the background of welfare state decline – most notably privatization of pensions – and financialization (i.e. growing influence of financial markets) as well as a strong stock-market recovery since the global financial crisis of 2008. While this development certainly holds true also for Sweden, the stakes are different: Swedish FIRE aspirants can, as opposed to for example their American counterparts, still rely on a future with stately parental insurance, public healthcare, and national retirement pension.


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