The Economic History Review

Wealth inequality in Sweden, 1750–1900†

Volume 71 Issue 3
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Pages: 772-794Authors: Erik Bengtsson, Anna Missiaia, Mats Olsson, Patrick Svensson
Published online: October 23, 2017DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12576

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Abstract This article examines the evolution of wealth inequality in Sweden from 1750 to 1900, contributing both to the debate on early modern and modern inequality and to the general debate on the pattern of inequality during industrialization. The pre-industrial period (1750-1850) is for the first time examined for Sweden at the national level. The study uses a random sample of probate inventories from urban and rural areas across the country, adjusted for age and social class. Estimates are provided for the years 1750, 1800, 1850, and 1900. The results show a gradual growth in inequality as early as the mid-eighteenth century, with the sharpest rise in the late nineteenth century. Whereas the early growth in inequality was connected to changes in the countryside and in agriculture, the later growth was related to industrialization encompassing both compositional effects and strong wealth accumulation among the richest. The level of inequality in Sweden in 1750 was lower than for other western European countries, but by 1900 Sweden was just as unequal.