One is too late on the move when diving to the night-life of Heinola on a wintery Saturday night at 8 pm. The restaurants are closed and people are watching Putous, a tv comedy show, cosy at home. The central square is brightened only by a surprisingly great number of Christmas lighting as well as an occasional shy honks coming from two cars cruising around the town centre. There is nobody around to be cat called from the window of the BMW so the success is unlikely to be too great.
There are signs of life in front of the gleaming window of a local R-Kioski: two young men loitering and holding beers in their hands. They are delighted to be interviewed because it is a change. “Heinola is a town from which women move away and in which McDonald’s went bankrupt.” says Mikko Pekonen, 22, and Teemu Kaartinen, 23, nods beside him in acceptance. The two friends are born and raised in Heinola. They discuss often how post offices and corner shops are shut down in the town.
While the physical distance from Heinola to Helsinki is 139 kilometres, the distance in attitudes is huge. There are 19 353 residents and almost a third of them are pensioners. People with a degree in higher education make 22,5% on the total populace, which is almost a half less than in Helsinki. Heinola is also one of the 155 municipalities in Finland in which lives significantly more young men than women. Statistics Finland tells that of the people between the ages of 20 and 29 and living in Heinola a whopping 68 percent were men. In 2015 there were 124 men for every 100 women aged 20 to 29 in Heinola. This is even more skewed than in China that prefers baby boys where there are 118 men in the same age group.
The uneven distribution of men and women across the country is a peculiar trait of Finnish demography. It derives from women moving after education and employment to growth centres and big cities while men stay on their homesteads. In 2010 52 percent of the women aged 30-34 had a degree in higher education while the respective percentage in men was 34. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD has predicted that this gap is only going to widen in the future: that 60 percent of Finnish women are going to be highly educated whereas only 34 percent of men will be. That would also mean even harder times finding a partner. The Finnish job market is really gendered by European standards so potential partners are hard to come by in working life, too.
Pekonen, who has got vocational qualification for logistics and is working as a storage worker, is a typical Finnish man who has got vocational education and has stayed in the town in which he was born. “I’m of this lower class”, he compares himself to Kaartinen who studies in Kotka to become a logistics engineer. That is, against his will, because Kaartinen would also have wanted to stay in Heinola. Both agree on Heinola being a good place to live despite the fact that local corner shops close their doors and that the highest building will soon be a new nursing home. Women can also be found, for example from Tinder. One should just add Lahti within the reach of the app as one can drive there for a date in 25 minutes. If a man is left without a woman it is man’s own fault and alcoholism or social exclusion are not viable alternatives.
“Thoughts like those are lies. Men just need to take themselves by their bootstraps. Even though we just came from a bar, we don’t normally spend our time drinking. After all, this is not the capital city of depression.” Pekonen says and sips beer by his words.
He is correct. The capitals of depression are located in Northern Savonia or at least the greatest number of antidepressants is consumed there according to medical reimbursement statistics of Kela. The bachelors’ capitals of Finland are located in turn in sparsely populated areas of Lapland and Kainuu, where there live a whopping one and a half young men for every one woman aged 20 to 29. In many of these areas only a half of adult population has continued their studies after ground school so education is not giving content to people’s lives.
These are those men for whom the researchers are especially worried: mama’s boys who exclude themselves from society and are misunderstood as well as a danger to themselves and to others. Statistics show that men who are left alone for example drink too much alcohol, smoke and take too much debt on them. Statistics Finland also tells that unmarried men die on average seven years younger than their married peers. It is not clear whether those who take greater risks in life are left on their own devices or if a riskier lifestyle is a result of living alone.
Many think that when a working man from Heinola is not seen as a viable partner option it is due to women being picky or due to an unhealthy competition of “elite partners”. In reality there are many reasons. People from different backgrounds do not meet and if they meet their interests are different. This phenomenon is real and there is a name for it, homogamy. It means that a partner is chosen from a roughly similar social status as oneself.
Elina Mäenpää has studied the homogamy of relationships and says that partner’s education plays a more important role than their income level, especially now when women do not need to find an affluent partner to secure the life of a housewife anymore. Also, nobody has to marry on fiscal grounds anymore which in turn changes the expectations of a relationship. On the other hand, income is still relevant: men of lower income levels are more likely to be left on their own devices while the effect of income is negligible when it comes to women.
”We can’t always go on by a fancy yacht, sometimes we have to row forward and still we need to respect life!”
Petri, or Pete among friends, is on an evening stroll next to the central square. He is in his forties and does not concur with Mustamäki’s findings on homogamy. He has got different observations of his own which come from a life lived.
“It is so that money’s way is their way. Once I thought that I’ll get married with big money, but bollocks! She took my money and ran, after all.” Pete testifies.
“The requirements women have for men nowadays are ludicrous. One must have real estate on the seashore, fast cars. Things start to go downhill if there is no money after all. Many a woman is after money, but I don’t respect that. We can’t always go on by a fancy yacht, sometimes we have to row forward and still we need to respect life! I say that just go and try to find your men from Westend, then.”
Pete decides to have a liqueur coffee on his evening stroll and pop into another one of the pubs next to the central square, the higher-profile one of which interior is affectionate and reminiscent of warm woods and the nineties. The temperature is below zero degrees but Miika Salomaa, 22, is at the door working his shift as a bouncer with his colleague Eemeli Tanskanen, 22, who is having a night off and tries to get a bit sloshed to celebrate it. Pete educates the two of the importance of a prenuptial agreement. “We have heard this before, too, and we have taken the advice to our hearts.” Tanskanen comments on the prenuptial advice.
Inside the bar there are a dozen people. Among the men there is a group of girls. Bouncer Salomaa says that the gender distribution of the town can be seen on the door to some extent. A story of a minor fight that happened in the pub on the weekend before is cut short by a young, notably drunk man, who stumbles out of the pub’s door and whose beer cart falls to the ground spreading its contents around the snowy street. Salomaa and Tanskanen, who is having his night off, stack the beer cases neatly back in the cart, shake hands with the tripped one and wish him a good journey home. It goes unquestioned why a man in such a state of inebriation had been allowed to go inside, and even with his own beverages. Maybe he is known to be harmless. It seems that the overly presented male population does not make the nightlife in Heinola overly quarrelsome.
Tanskanen moves inside the pub to warm himself up. Soon Pete and the owner of the pub are sitting in the same table. The middle-aged ones start to babble about familiar subjects: the town government, taxes, schools shutting down and the mould contamination of those schools. Tanskanen stares blankly to nothingness and nods absent-mindedly while stroking his small beard. He is trampled over by the elderly when he once tries to partake. There is not too much company of the same age in the pub. Tanskanen calls to a friend to ask if there is already people in a nightclub close by called Tukkijätkä. Of course there is, three older people drinking long drink and gaming with slot machines.
Tanskanen is woken from his thoughts when his little brother comes for car keys and some money for petrol. He has got three siblings and has a firm together with the oldest one. It is a lunch-time restaurant in a neighbourhood where there are ten geriatric care units and when Tanskanen is speaking business he gets elated.
“I have given it a lot of thought that I could move to someplace else. Then again, there is really good development in Heinola right now. It is growing and going in to a good direction and I want to be a part of it.”
It is easy to imagine that if Tanskanen had been born to Helsinki instead of Heinola, he would study finance and seek to change the world with his friends in the start-up scene. Now his own establishment takes up all of the weekdays and work as a bouncer all weekends. He works by the door as a hobby but it also helps his social life.
“Of course one can find women here! I can recommend becoming a bouncer. I work also in the only nightclub in town so let’s just say I’ve got my turf covered.” Tanskanen says sounding only endearing and not at all crass.
Sometimes after the giddiness of inebriation has worn off has pondered if he is going to be left single forever. So has many other, too, because according to the Finsex study conducted in 2008 only about six percent of Finns do not want a relationship at all. About ten percent will not be married or be cohabiting with anyone during their lifetimes. In reality Tanskanen is not in distress concerning this at all.
“As the saying goes, the one will be found if it will be found.”
Tanskanen cannot identify those socially excluded and forgotten young men of whom the researchers are worried from his own circle of friends. Instead he compares few of his fellow couples to those socially excluded since they tend to exclude themselves from social life outside their own relationship after they have started dating. Swiftly Tanskanen counts seven couples who have been together from the seventh grade.
“People start living the life of the middle-aged at the age of 22. Such that first you go to work, after that you watch some telly and afterwards go to sleep in proper time. I’ve told my friends and workfellows that if I were to trap myself like that now, please take me to a hospital. In a small town people perhaps tend to be longer with the same person and not to hop from under one’s sheets to another’s on a weekly basis.”
Outside of work the single man lives in a semi alone, because that is feasible on the price levels of Heinola.
“I have four rooms, a kitchen, a sauna, a fireplace, a backyard, a front yard”, he lists.
Other men wonder beside him, what he does with all that space.
“Space at home is space to be taken.” Tanskanen answers and sounds enigmatic.
“Oh, waiting for the little missus?” Pete remarks bluntly.
“You can see it like that, too. Let’s leave the game open for now.”