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A Workers’ Revolution in Sweden? Exploring Economic Growth and Distributional Change with Detailed Data on Construction Workers’ Wages, 1831–1900

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  • Ericsson, Johan

    () (Department of History, Uppsala University)

  • Molinder, Jakob

    () (Department of Economic History, Uppsala University)

Abstract

The impact of the transition to modern economic growth on the distribution of income is widely debated. The experience of early industrializers like Britain and the US has informed much of the debate, lending support to the idea embedded in the models of Kuznets and Lewis that real wages of laborers tend to lag behind the growth of GDP per capita in the early stages of economic development. We examine the impact growth on workers in Sweden using a new dataset on daily wages for helpers, carpenters, masons, and teamsters over the 1831–1900 period. The data has a uniquely detailed geographical coverage, including a broad set of places in the countryside as well as towns. Our new series shows that real wage growth began in the mid-1850s, that the average yearly increase was substantial and superseding GDP per capita growth after 1880, that it was larger for unskilled helpers than higher-skilled groups, and was present in the countryside and urban areas alike. A comparison with Northern Europe shows that unskilled workers in Sweden benefited to a much greater extent from economic growth, highlighting the importance of paying careful attention to distributional issues when comparing living standards across countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Ericsson, Johan & Molinder, Jakob, 2018. "A Workers’ Revolution in Sweden? Exploring Economic Growth and Distributional Change with Detailed Data on Construction Workers’ Wages, 1831–1900," Lund Papers in Economic History 181, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:luekhi:0181
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Keywords

    wages; inequality; distribution; economic development; growth; living standards; Kuznets-curve; Lewis;

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N13 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology

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