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Mercantilist Inequality: Wealth and Poverty in Stockholm 1650-1750

Bengtsson, Erik; Olsson, Mats; Svensson, Patrick


This paper maps social structure, poverty, wealth and economic inequality in Stockholm from 1650 to 1750. We begin by establishing the social structure, using census data and other sources. To study wealth and poverty, the main sources are a sample from the wealth tax of 1715, and probate inventory samples from 1650, 1700 and 1750. These provide detailed and sometimes surprising insights into the living standards of both the poor and rich. Stockholm in this period was a starkly unequal city, with the top decile of wealth holders owning about 90 per cent of total wealth. We argue that this inequality was the result of deliberate policy – the Mercantilist conviction of “just rewards” for each and every one according to his or her standing. The case of Stockholm shows the need for the historical inequality literature to consider class and power relations to understand the determinants of inequality.


wealth, inequality, social stratification, Sweden, Stockholm, probate inventories

Published in

Lund papers in economic history
2019, number: 210
Publisher: Department of Economic History, Lund University