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Collection Highlights: The Finnish Baby Box at 85 Years Old

Today marks Finland’s Independence Day, a day on which I like to highlight items from our Finnish law collection.

This year marks 85 years since Finland first introduced the Äitiyspakkaus maternity package, commonly known as the Finnish baby box, in 1937. This law was passed in response to high child mortality and sinking fertility among Finnish women. The law was adopted on September 24, 1937, and entered into force on January 1, 1938.

Finnish baby box contents. Photo by Flickr user Hogovk. August 12, 2012. Used under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

I roamed the Finnish stacks to find the original legislation from 1937, pictured to the right.

Picture of first page of the original Finnish Maternity Support Act of 1937 in Swedish.

Lag om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1937:322). Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

In 1937, the Finnish parliament adopted this legislation (Lag om Moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1937:223)) providing a monetary grant (that could also be paid in kind (baby box)) to women residing in Finland, working on Finnish ships, or who held asylum status and who, in addition, were deemed to be “mindre bemedlade” (of lesser means). These women were poor but did not live in poor houses.

Specifically, section 2 defined “of lesser means” as a single woman who alone, or a married woman who together with her husband, had an annual income of less than Finnish Markka (FIM) 8,000 (about US$3,237 today), or, if living in a city that was recognized by the municipality as having a higher cost of living (e.g. Helsinki), of up to FIM 10,000 (about US $4,045 today).

Section 4 of the Act provided that the support be a one-time grant of FIM 450 and that it could be paid out in cash or in kind, as further provided for in government regulation. The payment was based on the number of children born, not the number of pregnancies, so a twin birth would have provided FIM 900 in support. The right to support, which required an application, expired four months after the child was born. (Section 8.) The maternity support did not apply to women who were imprisoned, undergoing treatment for alcoholism, or who were living in a poor house. (Section 9.) The grant was paid by the local municipality, which was compensated by the national government. (Section 9.) The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health was tasked with overseeing the payment of maternity support. (Section 10.)

The legislative history (Proposition 1937 No. 12 om Lag om moderskapsunderstöd), set the expected government budget cost for maternity support at FIM 3,750,000.

Early Amendments to the Law

Picture of first page of 1945 Amendment to Finnish Act on Maternity Support in Swedish.

Lag angående ändring av lagen om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1945:125). Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

The law has been amended several times since 1937. Notably, in 1945, the law was amended to provide that “ [c]hild support is nevertheless not granted to a woman who, taking into account her assets and other means of income, is found not to be in need of it.” (1 § 2 para. Lag angående ändring av lag om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1945:125). Translation by author.) In 1949, the benefit became universal and an income test was no longer applied to the benefit. (1 § Lag angående ändring av lagen om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1949:347).)

Picture of first page of 1949 amendment to the Finnish Maternity Support Act in Swedish.

Lag angående ändring av moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 1949:347). Photo by Elin Hofverberg.

Contents of the Original Box

The first baby box included sewing patterns and fabric for mothers to sew the white clothes themselves. The cardboard box meant to serve as a bed for the child was introduced in 1942, at a time when recipient mothers lived in small quarters and the box provided a safe and clean place for the child to sleep. Having a designated bed just for the baby was believed to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. A video of the 1948 box can be found here, and one of the 1964 versions can be found here.

The Finnish Baby Box Today

The Finnish Box is still a maternity grant today, part of the Finnish social security system, although mothers can also opt for cash payments instead. (7 § Lag om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 28.5.1993/477).) The maternity grant is paid out by Kela. (Kela is the independent social security institution, overseen by the Finnish parliament.) For mothers who elect the payment over the box, the support is currently EUR 170 (about US$176) for one child. On Åland, the cash benefit is slightly larger, EUR 224 (US$231). The Act on Maternity support specifies that it is the government that sets the amount of the cash benefit and that Kela determines the content of the baby box. (7 § para 3-4 Lag om moderskapsunderstöd (FFS 28.5.1993/477).)

Contents of the Box Today

The 2022 baby box does not include fabric and patterns but ready-made clothes, diapers, thermometers, blankets, baby bibs, picture books, and other basic necessities that the child might need during its first year of life. Interestingly enough, starting in the 1970s, condoms were added to the box.

In addition to the one-time box per child born, Finnish parents also receive a monthly stipend, known as child benefit. The stipend, which is not subject to income tax, is paid until the month the child turns 17 years old.

While the box improved the child mortality rates, the Finnish fertility rate remains low at about 1.4, although some claim it may be rising in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic after falling sharply before that.

If you have a question regarding Finnish law, you can submit it using the Ask a Librarian form on our website.

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