Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Lund Papers in Economic History,
Lund University, Department of Economic History

No 177: The wealth of the Swedish peasant farmer class 1750–1900: Composition and distribution

Erik Bengtsson () and Patrick Svensson ()
Additional contact information
Erik Bengtsson: Economic History Unit, Gothenburg University, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden
Patrick Svensson: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Postal: Department of Economic History, Lund University, Box 7083, S-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Using about 1,730 probate inventories, this paper studies the wealth of peasant farmers in Sweden for the years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900. The Gini coefficient for the farmers’ wealth grew from 0.46 in 1750 to 0.73 in 1900. Average wealth grew rapidly, tripling over the nineteenth century. Looking in greater depth at four local areas (Kullings, Sjuhundra, Lagunda, and Bara hundreds), we show that over the period the diversity of farmers’ wealth grew, as did their financial sophistication; borrowing and lending patterns became more complex and the use of banks and other institutions grew while personal financial transactions became rarer. Farmers who lived close to the major grain markets in Stockholm and the mining district Bergslagen were wealthier than others, as were farmers on fertile plains and, in 1900, those living in coastal areas. Increased market access by 1900 – in terms of cities and foreign demand – meant that farmers well-placed in terms of geography and infrastructure benefited much more than farmers on what became the periphery, as regional inequality within the farmer class increased. Over the nineteenth century land prices increased much more in some areas than in others, but in the country as a whole they rose steeply.

Keywords: inequality; wealth; Sweden; peasant farmers; rural society; living standards; probate inventories

JEL-codes: N00; N33; N53; Q10

26 pages, September 4, 2018

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