Contract-workers in Swedish agriculture, c. 1890s – 1930s. A comparative study of standard of living and social status

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the political and medial discourse of the 1930s the contract-work system (stat/ar/ systemet) was depicted as a relic of pre-modern society and contract-workers (statare) as the highly exploited lower class with no legal rights, low incomes, miserable housing conditions and a chaotic family life. This picture has dominated Swedish social history ever since, and the main argument of this article is that it has to be modified. With regard to the material standard of living, for example, employment terms, working conditions, wage levels and housing conditions, contract-workers were no worse off than other worker groups in the countryside. On the contrary, the contract-work system had its own rationality and advantages. It made it possible for young couples without land or a croft to marry and establish their own household since housing was included in the payment, and the yearly employment and large proportion of in-kind payments provided income security. However, the political discourse of the 20th century was based on the growing importance of the town and industry. The more regulated employment conditions, higher wages and better housing for industrial and urban workers became the yardstick by which the contract-workers’ situation was judged. Agriculture was an economic sector in decline and the contract-work system appeared to be outdated. The abolition of the contract-work system in 1945 was definitive confirmation of the victory of modernity.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • standard of living, labour, statare, contract-workers, agriculture
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-323
JournalScandinavian Journal of History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Publication categoryResearch