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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.

The project starts 1 July 2018

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



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

University of Bergen, Department of Sociology



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  • 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. 295–314.
  • 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. doi: 10.1111/1468-4446.12852.
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  • 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
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  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.

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  • Toft, Maren (2019). Hvem blir rike i Norge i dag? [Radio]. Rørsla. Podcast til Frifagbevegelse.
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Published May 11, 2018 1:04 PM - Last modified Sep. 26, 2020 8:28 PM