The Economic History Review

Swedish income inequality in 1613

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Authors: Martin Andersson, Jakob Molinder
Published online: February 18, 2024DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13329

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In this paper we present the first estimate of the full income distribution in pre-industrial Sweden (including present-day Finland). We draw on the schedule and the individual assessments devised by the authorities to distribute the 1613 Älvsborg ransom taxation to estimate income inequality, as well as the income shares of the top quantiles and of various social groups. We find that Sweden was relatively equal compared with other early modern European societies, for two main reasons: first, because the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and other middle-rank social groups all held relatively small shares of the total income, and second, because the landless groups were less numerous in Sweden than in other societies. This resulted in a large share of the total income going to the relatively homogeneous group of landed peasants, who made up the majority of the population. Our study thus speaks to the political historiography of early modern Sweden, within which negotiation and collaboration between the landed peasantry and the state has been seen as pivotal to the state formation process.