Transportation and regional inequality: the impact of railways in the Nordic countries, 1860–1960

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Before industrialisation the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) were part of Europe's poor periphery, but over the last century these countries have become some of the richest in the world. This article analyses the origins of Nordic growth from the late nineteenth century, focusing on a previously neglected topic: the role of transportation. We argue that transportation, and most notably large investments in railways, played a key role in Nordic industrialisation. Railways made the exploitation and exportation of natural resources possible in what had previously been isolated areas and helped fuel a process of rural-based industrialisation. By creating conditions that favoured migration towards previously scarcely populated, but economically booming areas, Nordic industrialisation was paralleled by a reduction in regional inequality as measured in per capita GDP. We assert that railways were built before local population growth and helped shape the economic landscape of the entire region. We illustrate these points using maps based on Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) highlighting railways, regional GDP and population densities from the mid nineteenth century until 1960.


External organisations
  • Open University of Catalonia
  • University of Lleida
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • Regional inequality, Railways, Historical GIS, Population growth, Economic growth, Nordic countries
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-70
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Oct 1
Publication categoryResearch

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