The agricultural revolution and the conditions of the rural poor, southern Sweden 1750–1860

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Abstract

The social consequences of agrarian change have been widely debated. The traditional view of the lower classes becoming increasingly vulnerable due to the loss of access to resources has been met with the revisionist view that this change was counteracted by an increase in the volume and regularity of employment due to investments and new farming practices. This article address this issue by studying the agricultural revolution in southern Sweden using aggregate data at the parish level. New micro-level data on actual harvest outcomes, supplemented by price data, make it possible to differentiate between the development of the local economy and exogenous price shocks. Our results indicate a clear mortality response to harvest fluctuations in general and to harvest failures in particular. The response differed greatly between farming regions, being strongest in the areas most dependent on grain production. The response also diminished during the agricultural revolution, indicating the increasing efficiency of the local economy. This indicates employment effects in line with the revisionist view. At the same time, vulnerability to fluctuations in prices of basic foodstuffs remained high until the second half of the nineteenth century and was also quite similar across farming regions.

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  • Economic History
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-508
Number of pages26
JournalEconomic History Review
Volume70
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes