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. 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?
Among research results, we will highlight the following:
- There is a strong correlation between your class background, i.e. which class your parents belong to, and the wealth you achieve. Those with upper-class backgrounds, and especially upper-class economic backgrounds, have the highest wealth. Differences in education do not explain the wealth differences over the generations. Class differences in wealth have increased over time, and the relationship between class background and wealth is much stronger around 2020 than it was in the early 1990s. To explain these tendencies, we point to changes in the economy that have provided new opportunities for accumulation of wealth. We also show that borrowing is a strategy that has become increasingly important for accumulating wealth, and that this strategy is most prevalent among people from the upper classes.
- Before 1900, there were small class differences in the grades achieved in law, a subject that leads to elite positions in society if you have good grades. Class differences in grades increase throughout the 20th century to 2015. Candidates from the upper class, and especially the culture and professions, achieve the highest grades. Candidates from the upper classes achieve a somewhat lower grade level. Class differences also persist if candidates are compared with the same grade level from upper secondary school. Those with the highest grade level from upper secondary school achieve the highest grades in law school during the 200 years we study, but the grade level from upper secondary school does not explain the social character differences. We assume that mechanisms that favor "insiders" in the profession are weakened over time, while the importance of having cultural capital in the family has increased. The patterns revealed indicate that lawyers with a background in the upper class have the best career opportunities in the field of law.
- Studies of the formation of couples in upper-class environments suggest that people from such environments tend to marry or cohabit within the same class fraction. That is, those who belong to the cultural upper class have the greatest chance of marrying someone from a similar background, and the same applies to the economic upper class. At the same time, it is more common to have partners from the lower part of the class structure among those in the economic upper class than in the cultural faction. The patterns we have uncovered suggest that marriage and cohabitation contribute to strengthening the development of class differences.
- When we investigate how class background shapes economic returns in the Norwegian upper class (3.8% of the population), we first find that the income advantage of those from privileged backgrounds increases sharply when they rise in the income distribution. This applies both in business enterprises and in cultural life. Second, we show that those with an economically upper-class background receive the highest incomes. The results also indicate that it is the parents' wealth, or "the bank of mom and dad", that explains the income disparities in the Norwegian upper class.
While Scandinavan societies are widely recognized as egalitarian societies with low inequalities of income, the level of wealth inequality is found to be very high. This paradox of Scandinavian egalitarianism forms the point of departure of this project. However, the accumulation of wealth and its effects are blind spots in the sociology of stratification, which is more preoccupied with the equalizing or stratifying the impact of education. Why is this so, and what does it mean for the understanding of Scandinavian egalitarianism? This project will fill the gap in knowledge through embedding the study of wealth accumulation within the framework of a more broadly oriented sociology of stratification. By drawing on a combination of novel and recently available data sources, as well as data from contemporary administrative registers, we will unpack how structures of stratification have endured or changed during the past two hundred years, with special attention to the accumulation of wealth, the transmission of wealth across generations and the production and reproduction of ?dynasties? at the apex of the social structure. We will accomplish this through four work packages focusing on: 1) how the class structure itself changes, through the changing relations between positions and emergence of new ones; 2) changes in the accumulation and reproduction of wealth through the last decades; 3) the degree to which elites become more open over time by drawing on a Norwegian equivalent of the Who's who and other data sources providing historical and contemporary information; and 4) the changing contours of homogamy, and class endogamy, as a way to gauge the relative permeability of class boundaries over time.