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The stratification of the Swedish peasant farmer class, 1750-1900

Erik Bengtsson and Patrick Svensson

No 17019, Working Papers from Economic History Society

Abstract: "Pre-industrial Sweden is famous for its self-owning and independent peasant farmer class and the peasant farmers have often been considered as carriers of equality and a particular brand of Scandinavian road to modernity. Moreover, it has been argued that rising income and wealth within this large segment of the population resulted in increased demand for non-agrarian products and thus that this provided the start of a domestic industrial expansion. However, quantitative studies of the wealth and inequality of Swedish farmers have been limited to studies on smaller localities. This paper contributes with the first comprehensive study of the wealth of the Swedish farmers, using a national sample of almost 5 000 probate inventories for the benchmark years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900, of which about 1 730 inventories are for farmers. The paper maps the farmers’ wealth positions in relation to other social groups as well as the wealth stratification within the farmer class. We show that in 1750 and 1800 Swedish farmers were relatively equal, comparable to for example free farmers in the US North, but that inequality increased gradually and that in 1900 the Gini coefficient for the farmer class has risen to 0.74, as compared to 0.46 in 1750. The equality – at least in economic terms – of Swedish farmers has thus been overstated. Importantly though, average wealth increased within the group although also here regional differences, arising from differences in soil quality as well as transportation and proximity to urban markets, are discernible."

Keywords: "inequality; wealth; Sweden; peasant farmers; rural society" (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: N00 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017-04
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his
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