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Searching for Optimal Inequality/Incentives

In: Reforming the Welfare State: Recovery and Beyond in Sweden

  • Anders Björklund
  • Richard B. Freeman

This paper examines the evolution of economic inequality in Sweden before, during and after the major macro-economic recession in the early 1990s. Earnings and income inequality increased after the downturn, but government safety net programs buttressed disposable income for those with low income, and despite the rise in inequality, Sweden remained one of the most egalitarian economies in the world. The rise in inequality raised the return to observable skills, but the returns are still too low to explain that Sweden moved to the top of the league tables in knowledge intensive activities. Our analysis of attitudes to inequality shows that more Swedes expressed more concern over the inequity in inequality after the rise in inequality in the 1990s than in the past. Further, more Swedes expressed greater dissatisfaction with wages and working conditions. On the other hand, the rise in unemployment did not reduce overall subjective well being, probably because individuals adapted to higher levels of unemployment.

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This chapter was published in:
  • Richard B. Freeman & Birgitta Swedenborg & Robert Topel, 2010. "Reforming the Welfare State: Recovery and Beyond in Sweden," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free05-1, October.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 5358.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:5358
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.orgEmail:


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    1. Dan Devroye & Richard Freeman, 2002. "Does Inequality in Skills Explain Inequality of Earnings Across Advanced Countries?," CEP Discussion Papers dp0552, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    2. Magnus Gustavsson, 2007. "The 1990s rise in Swedish earnings inequality -- persistent or transitory?," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 39(1), pages 25-30.
    3. Martins, Pedro S. & Pereira, Pedro T., 2004. "Does education reduce wage inequality? Quantile regression evidence from 16 countries," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 355-371, June.
    4. A Bjorklund & Richard Freeman, 1995. "Generating Equality and Eliminating Poverty the Swedish Way," CEP Discussion Papers dp0228, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    5. Aaberge, Rolf, et al, 2002. "Income Inequality and Income Mobility in the Scandinavian Countries Compared to the United States," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 48(4), pages 443-69, December.
    6. Markus Jäntti & Eva Österbacka & Oddbjörn Raaum & Tor Eriksson & Anders Björklund, 2002. "Brother correlations in earnings in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden compared to the United States," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 15(4), pages 757-772.
    7. Bjorklund, Anders & Jantti, Markus, 1997. "Intergenerational Income Mobility in Sweden Compared to the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 1009-18, December.
    8. Matthew J. Lindquist, 2005. "Capital-Skill Complementarity and Inequality in Sweden," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 107(4), pages 711-735, December.
    9. Gary Solon, 2002. "Cross-Country Differences in Intergenerational Earnings Mobility," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(3), pages 59-66, Summer.
    10. Richard B. Freeman & Robert Topel & Birgitta Swedenborg, 1997. "The Welfare State in Transition: Reforming the Swedish Model," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free97-1, October.
    11. Nahum, Ruth-Aïda, 2005. "Income Inequality and Growth: a Panel Study of Swedish Counties 1960-2000," Arbetsrapport 2005:3, Institute for Futures Studies.
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