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Persistently egalitarian? Swedish income inequality in 1613 and the four-estate parliament

Martin Andersson () and Jakob Molinder ()
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Martin Andersson: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

No 235, Lund Papers in Economic History from Lund University, Department of Economic History

Abstract: There is a widespread perception that present-day Nordic egalitarianism is the outcome of a long historical continuity, where the strong political position of peasant farmers and weak feudalism were marking characteristics of pre-industrial society. However, little empirical evidence so far exists on the distribution of income for the early modern period. In this paper, we draw on the schedule and individual assessments devised by the authorities to distribute the tax-burden associated with the Älvsborg ransom to estimate income inequality and the share of income accruing to top income earners and to different social groups in the Swedish realm (present-day Sweden and Finland) in 1613. Using this information, we are able to speak to several debates on pre-industrial distribution of income and historical inequality in the Nordic countries. We find that the income share of the richest one percent was 13 percent while the share of the top 0.01 percent stood at 2 percent. Sweden was characterized by a two- pronged social structure where a large share of income was held by the absolute top as well as by the peasants who made up the majority of the population, while the nobility, clergy, burghers and other middle-rank groups held relatively small income shares not least due to their small population numbers. This finding helps explain the relatively strong position of peasants as a fourth estate within the early modern Swedish parliament. While Sweden in the early seventeenth century was relatively equal compared to other contemporary societies, the egalitarian social structure was upended over the subsequent centuries resulting in vast economic and political inequality by the late nineteenth century. Thus, there is no apparent continuity between early modern equality and post-WW2 egalitarianism.

Keywords: inequality; income distribution; top incomes; Sweden; early modern period (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D31 N13 N33 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 47 pages
Date: 2022-02-07
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-ban, nep-gro and nep-his
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