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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

The living standards of the labouring classes in Sweden, 1750-1900: evidence from probate inventories

Bengtsson, Erik; Svensson, Patrick


We present new estimates of the living standards among the rural labouring classes in Sweden from 1750 to 1900. Starting with a database of more than 1,000 probate inventories of rural, landless and semi-landless people from the years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900, we study the development for crofters in particular. In a sub-sample of 120 probate inventories we map in great detail the material items of the crofter households, focusing especially on two categories: the means of production (animals and agricultural tools) and consumption goods. The crofters held over time fewer means of production but more consumption goods: glass, porcelain, mirrors, and clocks become more common. However, the decrease in means of production indicates a greater dependence on wage labour, rising land prices made it more difficult to become a farmer, and housing standards stayed poor. The study shows the usefulness of probate inventories to study labouring people’s living standards.

Published in

Agricultural History Review
2022, Volume: 70, number: 1, pages: 49-69