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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Aristocratic wealth and inequality in a changing society: Sweden, 1750-1900

Bengtsson, Erik; Missiaia, Anna; Olsson, Mats; Svensson, Patrick


The role of the European nobility and their ability to retain their political and economic power are part of the debate on the modernization of Europe's economy. This paper contributes to the literature by exploring the wealth of the Swedish nobility as the country evolved from an agrarian to an industrial economy. We use a sample of 200+ probate inventories of nobles for each of the benchmark years 1750, 1800, 1850 and 1900. We show that the nobility, less than 0.5 per cent of the population, was markedly dominant in 1750: the average noble was 60 times richer than the average person, and the nobles held 29 per cent of all private wealth. 90 per cent of the nobles were richer than the average person. By 1900 the advantage of the nobles' wealth had declined; the group held only 5 per cent of total private wealth. At the same time, stratification within the nobility had increased dramatically. One group of super-rich Swedish nobles, often large land owners from the high nobility, possessed the biggest fortunes, but a large minority of nobles were no richer than the average Swede.


inequality; wealth; Sweden; nobility; economic stratification; social groups

Published in

Scandinavian Journal of History
2019, Volume: 44, number: 1, pages: 27-52

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Economic History

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