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The living standards of the labouring classes in Sweden, 1750–1900: Evidence from rural probate inventories

Erik Bengtsson and Patrick Svensson ()
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Patrick Svensson: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

No 213, Lund Papers in Economic History from Lund University, Department of Economic History

Abstract: This paper presents new estimates of the living standards amongthe rural labouring classesinSweden from 1750 to 1900. Starting witha database of more than 1,000 probate inventories of rural landless and semi-landless peoplefrom the benchmark years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900, we study the development for croftersin particular. We measuretheir assets and debts in great detail, mapping the development of material living standards over time. We show that the typically used real wageapproach to living standards gives onlya partialimpression of the development of proletarian living standards.Above all,the decline ofSwedish living standards from 1750 to 1800 is overestimated because of overreliance on grain prices for the CPI.We show the advantages of using probate inventories for studying living standards, since they givea composite estimate of households’ material conditions, no matter whatcombinations of wage-labour, subsistence work and by-employment are used.This has relevance not only for Sweden, but for studies of historical living standards in general.

Keywords: living standards; wealth; poverty; inequality; probate inventories; Sweden; rural workers (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I32 N13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 25 pages
Date: 2020-05-05
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his
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