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Unequal poverty and equal industrialisation: Finnish wealth, 1750–1900


  • Erik Bengtsson
  • Anna Missiaia
  • Ilkka Nummela
  • Mats Olsson


We present the first comprehensive, long-run estimates of Finnish wealth and its distribution from 1750 to 1900. Using wealth data from 17,279 probate inventories, we show that Finland was very unequal between 1750 and 1850; the top decile owned about 90% of total wealth. This means that Finland was more unequal than the much wealthier economies Britain, France and the US, which goes against the common assumption of richer economies being more unequal. Moreover, when industrialisation took off in Finland, inequality started a downward trajectory. High inequality 1750–1850 was bottom-driven, by a large share of the population owning nothing or close to nothing of value, while economic development after 1850 was pro-equal since the ownership of forests, since long in the hands of the peasantry, became more valuable with the development of forest-based industries. Our findings thus contradict commonplace assumptions that economic growth and industrialisation are associated with more inequality, as well as recent arguments that very few factors beyond catastrophes can decrease inequality. We instead argue for a more inductive and open approach to the determinants of long-run inequality.

Suggested Citation

  • Erik Bengtsson & Anna Missiaia & Ilkka Nummela & Mats Olsson, 2019. "Unequal poverty and equal industrialisation: Finnish wealth, 1750–1900," Scandinavian Economic History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 67(3), pages 229-248, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:sehrxx:v:67:y:2019:i:3:p:229-248
    DOI: 10.1080/03585522.2018.1546614

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    Cited by:

    1. Alfani, Guido & Di Tullio, M & Fochesato, M, 2020. "The determinants of wealth inequality in the Republic of Venice (1400-1800)," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 483, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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