The distinct seasonality of early modern casual labor and the short durations of individual working years: Sweden 1500-1800

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Historical wage studies have never been able to truly or accurately address the changes in the working year. Real wages have almost always been based on the wages of unskilled and casual laborers, typically paid by the day. Their annual incomes are not clear or obvious – the income is directly dependent on how many days they work.
Implicitly the literature has assumed that the number of days worked is a matter of labor’s decision of how much labor to supply, but the actual work year, both at the individual level and for a statistical ‘typical’ worker, has remained to a large extent a black box.
This paper makes use of nearly 28,000 observations representing over 151,000 paid workdays across over 300 years to investigate individual work patterns, work availability, and the changes in work seasonality over time. This sample is comprised of workers in the construction industry, and includes unskilled men and women as well as skilled building craftsmen – the industry which is often used to estimate comparative real wages through early modern Europe. Data come predominantly from Scania, the southernmost region in modern day Sweden, and especially from Malmö, the largest town in the region.
Findings indicate that workers probably do not engage in paid labor on a purely labor-supply based schedule, but are instead also impacted by the demand for construction labor, which was highly seasonal. Seasonality was stronger further back in the past, indicating that finding longterm work may have been more difficult in earlier periods. A typical work year would probably not have been longer than 150 days, and would be made up of shorter work spells at several different sites. This is not enough work to meet standard assumptions of 250 days, or enough work for an unskilled man to support his family at a respectable level (see Allen 2001).

Antal sidor22
StatusPublished - 2019


NamnLund Papers in Economic History. Education and the Labour Market
FörlagDepartment of Economic History, Lund University

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ)

  • Ekonomisk historia


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