A family affair: financial strategies and intergenerational wealth accumulation among the Swedish nobility (18th and 19th centuries).

Sångsalen Session 7: Families, business and wealth organized by Staffan Albinsson


Matteo Pompermaier, Martin Dackling


This paper investigates intergenerational wealth accumulation in a sample of Swedish noble families over a period spanning from the mid-18th century to the early 20th century. Drawing on probate inventories, it provides insights into the financial strategies of the nobility, including investment and inheritance practices, as well as the management of a variety of assets over time. The research contributes to the literature focused on intergenerational wealth transfer and inequalities. In particular, it studies the evolution of wealth concentration and inequalities of opportunities among the top wealthiest noble families in a crucial phase in the Swedish history. The 19th century was a period of vast economic and political transformation, which resulted in a growing disparity in prestige and financial status among two different groups of nobles. The high nobility became increasingly agricultural, while the low one moved to the urban areas and converged, in their lifestyle and economic behavior, with the wealthy bourgeoisie. This paper focuses on a sample of Swedish families chosen among the top richest in 1900, and it first studies their genealogical trees from mid-18th century to the early 20th century. Then, it relies on probate inventories to study how wealth was acquired and managed over time both qualitatively and quantitatively, comparing different families as well as various branches of the same families. The research aims to answer several questions, including the role of factors such as inheritance, investments, marriages, education, and professional careers in the process of accumulation or dissipation of wealth. What distinguishes families or branches that became richer from those that did not? Was the process predetermined or did individuals, generation after generation, shape their own destiny and that of their family? Compared to the existing literature, this paper does not consider single individuals at specific time frames, but it studies the probate inventories of all the members of specific families, generation after generation. This approach allows us to: a) highlight intrafamily dynamics; b) compare how different branches of the same family manage the wealth they inherited; c) limit problems associated with intervivos gifts and other transfers of wealth that happened when individuals were still alive, and, therefore, were not listed in probate inventories. By shifting the focus from individuals to families, this research provides new insights into the role of inheritance in intergenerational wealth accumulation. Moreover, it offers a new perspective on how the Swedish aristocracy coped with the significant economic and social changes that characterize this time period.


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