Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

SSE/EFI Working Paper Series in Economics and Finance,
Stockholm School of Economics

No 625: The Evolution of Top Incomes in an Egalitarian Society: Sweden, 1903–2004

Jesper Roine () and Daniel Waldenström ()
Additional contact information
Jesper Roine: Dept. of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, Postal: Stockholm School of Economics, P.O. Box 6501, SE-113 83 Stockholm, Sweden
Daniel Waldenström: Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Postal: Research Institute of Industrial Economics,, Box 55665, SE-10215 Stockholm,

Abstract: This study presents new homogenous series of top income shares in Sweden over the period 1903 to 2004. We find that, starting from higher levels of inequality than in other Western countries, the income share of the Swedish top decile drops sharply over the first eighty years of the century. The fall is almost entirely due to a dramatic drop in the top percentile, while the lower half of the top decile experiences virtually no change over this period. Most of the decrease takes place before the expansion of the welfare state, in fact, by 1950 Swedish top income shares were already lower than in other countries. In the past decades the Swedish top income shares developed very differently depending on whether capital gains are included or not. Including them, Sweden’s experience resembles that in the U.S. and the U.K. with sharp increases in top incomes, whereas excluding them Sweden looks more like the Continental European countries where top income shares have remained relatively constant. A possible interpretation of our results is that Sweden over the past 20 years has become a country where it is more important make the right investments than to have a high salary to become rich.

Keywords: Income inequality; Income distribution; Wealth distribution; Top incomes; Welfare State; Sweden; Taxation; Capital gains

JEL-codes: D31; H20; J30; N30

36 pages, April 11, 2006

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