A comprehensive system including all youth education programmes was an integrated part of the social democratic driven welfare state in Norway and Sweden. Why was that not the case in Denmark? The Danish gymnasium was not modernized until very late, and when the reforms took place in 2005 and 2007, they were strongly inspired by neoliberal tendencies. This article asks why the Danish gymnasium never became part of a social democratic strategy for education as in Norway and Sweden. It answers the question by analyzing the differences, not the similarities, between the Nordic countries. The article emphasizes a Danish tradition for self-management combined with the continental European bildung tradition.

Keywords: Nordic countries, social democratic welfare state and youth education programmes, gymnasium, reform, different forms of popularity