Sweden emerged in the 20th century as one of the richest and most equal countries in the world. International research has traced this to the Swedish tradition of freeholding peasant farmers, without serfdom and with representation in Parliament. But in Swedish historical research on the other hand, the farmers are often considered conservative and passive.
The aim of this project is to investigate the role of the peasantry in socioeconomic modernization of Sweden 1750–1900. This is done through four empirical studies. Study one uses probate inventories to analyze wealth and stratification of the peasants, to understand their household economics as well as the material basis of their politics. Study two starts from the importance of human capital for the economy and studies the relationship between inequality and investments in schooling and poor relief with data on the parish level. Study three studies the peasant representatives in Parliament 1750–1900 in terms of private economic status and from regional perspectives. Study four looks at peasants’ activities in Parliament concerning issues central to economic development, such as investments in physical infrastructure the education system.
The project provides a row of new empirical contributions to the international research debate on the importance of institutions for economic development, as well as possible re-evaluations of the role of peasant farmers in Swedish 18th and 19th century history.