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The Wealth of the Richest: Inequality and the Nobility in Sweden, 1750–1900

Author

Listed:
  • Bengtsson, Erik

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

  • Missiaia, Anna

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

  • Olsson, Mats

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

  • Svensson, Patrick

    (Department of Economic History, Lund University)

Abstract

The role of the European nobility and their ability to retain their political and economic power are part of the debate on the modernization of the European economy. This paper contributes to the literature by exploring the wealth of the Swedish nobility as Sweden evolved from an agrarian to an industrial economy. We use a sample of 200+ probate inventories of nobles for each of the benchmark years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900. Medieval and early modern Sweden often has been described as not fully feudal. In line with this, and the (perceived) comparative strength of the peasantry, the nobility is assumed to have been comparatively unimportant and less economically dominant than elsewhere in Europe. We show that the nobility, less than 0.5 per cent of the population, was very dominant in 1750: the average noble was 60 times richer than the average person, and the nobles held 29 per cent of private wealth while 90 per cent of the nobles were richer than the average person. In 1900 the nobles’ advantage had decreased but the stratification within the nobility had increased dramatically. There was a group of super-rich nobles, often large land owners from the high nobility, who possessed the biggest fortunes in Sweden. But there was also a large minority who were not richer than the average Swede. The overall wealth advantage of the nobles, however, hints at that while not all nobles were economically upper class in 1900, most of the upper class were nobles.

Suggested Citation

  • Bengtsson, Erik & Missiaia, Anna & Olsson, Mats & Svensson, Patrick, 2017. "The Wealth of the Richest: Inequality and the Nobility in Sweden, 1750–1900," Lund Papers in Economic History 161, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0161
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Mats Olsson & Patrick Svensson, 2016. "The landlord lag -- productivity on peasant farms and landlord demesnes during the agricultural revolution in Sweden 1700--1860," Scandinavian Economic History Review, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 64(1), pages 55-71, March.
    2. Gary Solon & Steven J. Haider & Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, 2015. "What Are We Weighting For?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 50(2), pages 301-316.
    3. Rodney Edvinsson & Johan Söderberg, 2011. "A Consumer Price Index For Sweden, 1290–2008," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 57(2), pages 270-292, June.
    4. Gregory Clark, 2015. "The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10181-2.
    5. Erik Bengtsson & Anna Missiaia & Mats Olsson & Patrick Svensson, 2018. "Wealth inequality in Sweden, 1750–1900," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 71(3), pages 772-794, August.
    6. Lindgren, Håkan, 2002. "The Modernization Of Swedish Credit Markets, 1840–1905: Evidence From Probate Records," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(3), pages 810-832, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    inequality; wealth; Sweden; nobility; economic stratification; social groups;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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