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Real wages, labour conditions and the standard of living in Denmark: 1500-1900




It is well established that Denmark is one of the richest economies in the world nowadays with high living standards and wages. But what about earlier times? This paper makes three contributions: firstly, it creates and describes a new and rich data set on historical wage developments in Denmark, based on data gathered by the Danish Price History Project for the period 1660‐1800; secondly, it tests the traditional view of Denmark being very poor during that period by offering insight into eighteenth century Danish living standards; and thirdly, it tests whether the country followed the traditional story of the Little Divergence by constructing a long run real wage series for 1500‐1900. Comparing real wages across Europe, I find incomes in the countryside actually converged in the sixteenth century. In this context, Denmark moved from being poor, to an average income level, becoming rich only in the nineteenth century. An analysis of the eighteenth century shows that the value of the skill premium was higher than that of leading countries in Europe, but the gender wage gap tended to close towards the end. Married women in skilled occupations earned more than unmarried ones, but no difference was seen for unskilled occupations.

Suggested Citation

  • Radu, Cristina Victoria, 2019. "Real wages, labour conditions and the standard of living in Denmark: 1500-1900," Discussion Papers of Business and Economics 2/2019, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Business and Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:sdueko:2019_002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Humphries, Jane & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2014. "The Wages of Women in England, 1260-1850," CEPR Discussion Papers 9903, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    2. Torben Dall Schmidt & Peter Sandholt Jensen & Amber Naz, 2018. "Agricultural productivity and economic development: the contribution of clover to structural transformation in Denmark," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 23(4), pages 387-426, December.
    3. repec:cge:wacage:2015 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Leonardo Ridolfi, 2017. "Six centuries of real wages in France from Louis IX to Napoleon III: 1250-1860," LEM Papers Series 2017/14, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    5. Humphries, Jane & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2015. "The Wages of Women in England, 1260–1850," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(2), pages 405-447, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alexandra M. de Pleijt & Jan Luiten van Zanden, 2018. "Two Worlds of Female Labour: Gender Wage Inequality in Western Europe, 1300-1800," Working Papers 0138, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    2. Kathryn E. Gary & Cristina Victoria Radu, 2019. "The impact of border changes and protectionism on real wages in early modern Scania," Working Papers 0166, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    3. Peter Sandholt Jensen & Cristina Victoria Radu & Battista Severgnini & Paul Sharp, 2018. "The introduction of serfdom and labour markets," Working Papers 0140, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).

    More about this item


    Little Divergence; Denmark; consumer price index; real wages; skill premium; gender gap; casual and full time workers; married/unmarried women; urban/rural workers; living standards;

    JEL classification:

    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • J40 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - General
    • J80 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Standards - - - General
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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