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Paradoxes of wealth and class: historical conditions and contemporary configurations (HISTCLASS)

The Norwegian or Nordic «model» is characterized by generous universal welfare provision and small wage inequalities. These egalitarian features do not imply that there is an equal distribution of wealth in the Scandinavian countries, or that the rich do not accumulate large fortunes.

Why is wealth inequality so pronounced in a society that in many respects is comparatively egalitarian? Photoillustration: Colorbox/UiO

About the project

Previous research indicates that the distribution of wealth is much more unequal in Scandinavia than in other European societies. Moreover the proportion of millionaires is high in Norway, and young Norwegian heirs stand out as especially wealthy in a global perspective. These paradoxical features are the point of departure for the project HISTCLASS. The project raises questions such as: Why is wealth inequality so pronounced in a society that in many respects is comparatively egalitarian? How should one explain such paradoxical features, and what do they mean for the understanding of Scandinavian egalitarianism? Are these paradoxes relatively new, or do today's rich families maintain family dynasties that have persisted over generations?  Are dynastic tendencies also found in families with top-level positions in other sectors, such as in the cultural sector, the professions, among civil servants, and in the academic world? To what extent does marriage between people from similar social milieus contribute to accumulation of resources over time?

These questions are addressed on the basis of a combination of historical and more recent datasets. We use data from older censuses and other historical sources, newer administrative population data, as well as a number of data sources on prominent people in various sectors. The Oslo Register Data Class Scheme (ORDC) serves as a point for departure for studying class inequalities. The analyses will detail the level of persistence and change of the stratification structure during the last two hundred years, with a special focus on accumulation of wealth, transmission of wealth over generations, and the production and reproduction of family dynasties at the top of society.


Primary objectives

To produce unique sociological evidence on the development of Norwegian structures of stratification through two hundred years, with particular attention to the role of wealth accumulation and processes of intergenerational transmission

Secondary objectives

To provide knowledge about

1) the changing structure of stratification in Norwegian society over a long period;

2) the accumulation of wealth and its intergenerational impact during the  last three decades;

3) change and stability in the recruitment to Norwegian elites through the last three hundred years; and

4) the changing permeability of class boundaries through examining class endogamy and educational homogamy.

*Examples of occupations and proportions within each category, based on the distribution of the classes are provided in the figure.  

Funding scheme

The total grant award was for NOK 9 697 000.

Independent Projects- FRIPRO

The Research Council of Norway


1 July 2018 - 31 December 2022


OsloMet- Oslo Metropolitan University, Centre for the Study of Professions (SPS)

University of Bergen, Department of Sociology



  • Toft, Maren & Hansen, Marianne Nordli (2022). Dynastic cores and the borrowed time of newcomers. Wealth accumulation and the Norwegian one percent . British Journal of Sociology. ISSN 0007-1315. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12925.
  • Hjellbrekke, Johannes & Jarness, Vegard (2022). Cultural divisions and time: Mapping diachronic homologies using class-specific MCA (CSA)<sup>1,2</sup>. BMS. Bulletin de méthodologie sociologique. ISSN 0759-1063. 155(1), p. 136–158. doi: 10.1177/07591063221102259.
  • Flemmen, Magne Paalgard; Hjellbrekke, Johannes; Hovden, Jan Fredrik & Jarness, Vegard (2022). Stability, transformation, and escalation: Norwegian classes and class boundaries 2008–2020. In Hugrée, Cedric; Penissat, Étienne; Spire, Alexis & Hjellbrekke, Johannes (Ed.), Class Boundaries in Europe. The Bourdieusian Approach in Perspective. . Routledge. ISSN 9781032122670.
  • Wiborg, Øyvind Nicolay (2022). Parents’ income and wealth matter more for children with low than high academic performance: Evidence from comparisons between and within families in egalitarian Norway. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. ISSN 0276-5624. doi: 10.1016/j.rssm.2022.100692.
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli & Toft, Maren (2021). Wealth Accumulation and Opportunity Hoarding: Class-Origin Wealth Gaps over a Quarter of a Century in a Scandinavian Country. American Sociological Review. ISSN 0003-1224. doi: 10.1177/00031224211020012. Full text in Research Archive
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli & Strømme, Thea Bertnes (2021). Historical change in an elite profession—Class origins and grades among law graduates over 200 years. British Journal of Sociology. ISSN 0007-1315. 72(3), p. 651–671. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12852. Full text in Research Archive
  • Hjellbrekke, Johannes (2021). Historical Epistemology, Sociology and Statistics. In Leiulfsrud, Håkon & Sohlberg, Peter (Ed.), Constructing Social Research Objects. Brill Academic Publishers. ISSN 978-90-04-45002-8. p. 24–37. doi: 10.1163/9789004450028_004.
  • Grätz, Michael; Barclay, Kieron J.; Wiborg, Øyvind Nicolay; Lyngstad, Torkild Hovde; Karhula, Aleksi & Erola, Jani [Show all 9 contributors for this article] (2021). Sibling similarity in education across and within societies. Demography. ISSN 0070-3370. 58(3), p. 1011–1037. doi: 10.1215/00703370-9164021. Full text in Research Archive
  • Helland, Håvard & Ljunggren, Jørn (2021). Arbeidere og yrkesstatus i Likhets-Norge. In Ljunggren, Jørn & Hansen, Marianne Nordli (Ed.), Arbeiderklassen. Cappelen Damm Akademisk. ISSN 9788202646240. p. 293–312.
  • Jarness, Vegard (2021). Kulturell ulikhet og klasse. In Grønmo, Sigmund; Nilsen, Ann & Christensen, Karen (Ed.), Ulikhet : Sosiologiske perspektiver og analyser. Fagbokforlaget. ISSN 978-82-450-3476-9. p. 345–383.
  • Toft, Maren & Friedman, Sam (2020). Family Wealth and the Class Ceiling: The Propulsive Power of The Bank of Mum and Dad. Sociology. ISSN 0038-0385. 55(1), p. 90–109. doi: 10.1177/0038038520922537.
  • Hjellbrekke, Johannes & Korsnes, Olav (2020). Constructing a Field of Power. Reflections on a Norwegian Case Study. . In Denord, Francois; Palme, Mikael & Reau, Bertrand (Ed.), Researching Elites and Power. Theory, Methods, Analyses. . Springer. ISSN 978-3-030-45175-2. p. 45–57. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-45175-2_4.
  • Toft, Maren & Jarness, Vegard (2020). Upper-class romance: homogamy at the apex of the class structure. European Societies. ISSN 1461-6696. doi: 10.1080/14616696.2020.1823009. Full text in Research Archive
  • Grätz, Michael & Wiborg, Øyvind (2020). Reinforcing at the Top or Compensating at the Bottom? Family Background and Academic Performance in Germany, Norway, and the United States. European Sociological Review. ISSN 0266-7215. 36(3), p. 381–394. doi: 10.1093/esr/jcz069.
  • Toft, Maren & Flemmen, Magne (2019). Var klassesamfunnet noen gang på hell? Norsk sosiologisk tidsskrift. ISSN 2535-2512. 3(2), p. 137–155. doi: 10.18261/issn.2535-2512-2019-02-03. Full text in Research Archive
  • Savage, Mike & Flemmen, Magne (2019). Life narratives and personal identity: The end of linear social mobility? Cultural and social history. ISSN 1478-0038. 16(1), p. 85–101. doi: 10.1080/14780038.2019.1574049.
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli & Wiborg, Øyvind (2019). The Accumulation and Transfers of Wealth: Variations by Social Class . European Sociological Review. ISSN 0266-7215. doi: 10.1093/esr/jcz036.
  • Toft, Maren & Flemmen, Magne (2018). The gendered reproduction of the upper class. In Korsnes, Olav; Heilbron, Johan; Hjellbrekke, Johannes; Bühlmann, Felix & Savage, Mike (Ed.), New Directions in Elite Studies. Routledge. ISSN 978-1138059191. p. 113–133. doi: 10.4324/9781315163796-6.
  • Wiborg, Øyvind N & Hansen, Marianne Nordli (2018). Klassebakgrunn, arv og gaver: Hvilken rolle spiller de for oppbygging av formue i ung alder? Søkelys på arbeidslivet. ISSN 1504-8004. 35(4), p. 294–312. doi: 10.18261/issn.1504-7989-2018-04-04. Full text in Research Archive
  • Wiborg, Øyvind N & Hansen, Marianne Nordli (2018). The Scandinavian Model During Increasing Inequality: Recent Trends in Educational Attainment, Earnings and Wealth among Norwegian Siblings. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. ISSN 0276-5624. 56, p. 53–63. doi: 10.1016/j.rssm.2018.06.006.
  • Flemmen, Magne; Jarness, Vegard & Rosenlund, Lennart (2018). Class and status: on the misconstrual of the conceptual distinction and a neo-Bourdieusian alternative. British Journal of Sociology. ISSN 0007-1315. 0(0), p. 1–51. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12508.

View all works in Cristin

  • Toft, Maren (2021). Hiring, matching, elites, and the bank of mum and dad: culture inequality, and social mobility. [Internet]. Culture and inequality podcast.
  • Toft, Maren & Hansen, Marianne Nordli (2021). Hvem foreldrene dine er, betyr stadig mer i Norge. [Business/trade/industry journal].
  • Hjellbrekke, Johannes (2021). Om ulikskap i Noreg.
  • Toft, Maren (2021). “Stayin “Stayin' Rich in Norway : ' Rich in Norway : Methodological Tools Methodological Tools to to Research the Research the UpperUpper--Classes”Classes”.
  • Toft, Maren (2021). Kort fortalts ulikhetsuke: Forsker Maren Toft. [Internet]. Podcast, tankesmien Agenda.
  • Toft, Maren (2020). Rige børn leger best. [Newspaper]. Weekendavisen.
  • Hjellbrekke, Johannes (2020). Mobility, Horizontal and Vertical. In Ritzer, George & Rojek, Chris (Ed.), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISSN 9781405165518. doi: 10.1002/9781405165518.
  • Toft, Maren (2020). Biographies of privilege: upper-class reproduction in Norway.
  • Jarness, Vegard (2020). Om overklassens diskrete sjarm og hva vi (ikke) snakker om når vi snakker om klasse. Minerva (Oslo). ISSN 0805-7842.
  • Toft, Maren (2020). Den nye maktgenerasjonen. [Newspaper].
  • Toft, Maren (2019). NRK Nyhetsmorgen: Norges 400 rikeste. [Radio]. NRK nyhetsmorgen.
  • Toft, Maren (2019). Sosiologifestival presenterer: Skillelinjer, klasse, konflikt.
  • Toft, Maren & Jarness, Vegard (2019). Mapping the matrimonial market of elites.
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli (2019). The international inequality debate and the pattern in Norway .
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli & Wiborg, Øyvind N (2019). Family wealth, educational attainment and wealth formation – a three-generational study of young adults.
  • Toft, Maren (2019). Hvem blir rike i Norge i dag? [Radio]. Rørsla. Podcast til Frifagbevegelse.
  • Toft, Maren (2019). Family wealth and the class ceiling. The propulsive power of the bank of mum and dad.
  • Toft, Maren (2018). Sju å se opp for . [Newspaper]. Klassekampen.
  • Wiborg, Øyvind N & Grätz, Michael (2018). The varying impact of parental economic resources on academic performance: Evidence from a family fixed-effects quantile regression approach. .
  • Hansen, Marianne Nordli & Wiborg, Øyvind N (2018). Family wealth and educational attainment - a three generational study of young adults in Norway.
  • Savage, Mike & Hjellbrekke, Johannes (2021). The Sociology of Elites: a European stocktaking and call for collaboration. III Working Paper 58. International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science.

View all works in Cristin

Published May 11, 2018 1:04 PM - Last modified Jan. 31, 2022 3:21 PM