Poor Relief, Taxes and the First Universal Pension Reform: the origin of the Swedish welfare state reconsidered

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In the year 1900, Sweden probably had the oldest population in the contemporary world. It was also the first nation to implement a universal pension system in 1913. The universal character in early social legislation has certainly been decisive for the development of the Swedish welfare state. This alternative has not been self-evident. Why did the reforms turn universal, when the continental model, the Bismarck social security system, was exclusively directed at industrial workers? Research has concentrated on demographic factors and growing demands for social security, or on the fact that Sweden was still a predominantly rural society with about 2,400 local authorities. This article examines the development of social legislation in the light of local government expenditures and incomes, and suggests an overlooked possibility: the formulation of the first universal national social security reform was a redistributional response to uneven distribution of incomes and general expenditures among the rural districts in Sweden.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Work
  • Economic History
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-402
JournalScandinavian Journal of History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch