Lund Papers in Economic History, Department of Economic History, Lund University
Famines in the Nordic countries, AD 536–1875
(), Mats Olsson
() and Patrick Svensson
Abstract: The first part of this paper aims at identifying the
timing of famines in the Nordic countries since the middle ages. This is
done by using qualitative famine reports from the literature since
quantitative data on famines are scarce or non-existent, at least before
the early modern period. We supplement the reports with climate data and
price data. Our survey indicates that widespread famine was always a rare
occurrence in the Nordic countries, despite frequent crop failures. The
second part studies the regional famine pattern and its demographic
characteristics in Sweden 1750–1910. This part is based on demographic data
on parish level from the official statistics and price data. We identify
two periods of excess mortality: the last major famine in Sweden in the
early 1770s and the excess mortality in 1809 due to epidemic outbreaks.
Examining the age-specific mortality and seasonality pattern in these two
years of mortality crises in Sweden we show a highly similar pattern
explained by similar causes of death being involved: dysentery and typhus.
All age groups were affected during the crisis, but children over the age
of one were hardest hit. Mortality was highest during the summer and early
fall as epidemics spread rapidly through water and food. Thus, while Nordic
people clearly were vulnerable to economic fluctuations, conditions rarely
deteriorated to famine levels, which can be explained as a combination of a
reasonably well-functioning market, a diversified economy, a population
density in line with resource availability and the absence of serious
political or war-related conditions conducive to famine.
Keywords: famine; mortality; climate; food prices; harvests; Nordic countries; Middle Ages; 19th century; (follow links to similar papers)
JEL-Codes: I31; N33; Q54; (follow links to similar papers)
45 pages, September 28, 2015
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