Winners and losers from agrarian reform: Evidence from Danish land inequality 1682–1895

Nina Boberg-Fazlić, Markus Lampe, Pablo Martinelli Lasheras, Paul Sharp*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Pro-market and pro-farmer agrarian reforms enacted in eighteenth century Denmark laid the basis for rural development but we demonstrate that they also resulted in increased inequality. We investigate this using a novel parish-level database spanning more than two centuries. We identify the impact of land quality on inequality following the reforms by instrumenting with soil type and find increases in areas with more productive land. We propose and find evidence for a mechanism whereby agrarian reforms allowed areas with better soil quality to realize greater productivity gains. This in turn led to greater population increases, and a larger share of smallholders and landless laborers. Finally, we demonstrate the impact on the winners and losers: more unequal areas witnessed increases in top incomes, but greater emigration of the rural poor, to the United States in particular. Thus, the losers were able to vote with their feet, in stark contrast to those who might lose from similar reforms in developing countries today.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102813
JournalJournal of Development Economics
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Deirdre N. McCloskey, Ellen Hillbom, Nicolai Kaarsen, Marc Klemp, Per Grau Møller, Alexander Reinold, Christian Skovsgaard, and participants at the 1st Scandinavian Economic History Meeting, the 13th Swedish Economic History Meeting, and seminar participants at the London School of Economics, the Vienna Economic History Brownbag Seminar and Humboldt University of Berlin for helpful comments and discussions. We thank María Merchán Rocamora, Ursula Németh and Anna-Magdalena Schwarz for help with typing and formatting the data. Markus Lampe gratefully acknowledges funding from Fundación Ramón Areces (Spain) , Paul Sharp acknowledges funding from the Danish Council for Independent Research : This paper is part of his Sapere Aude grant no. DFF-6109-00123 , and Nina Boberg-Fazlić acknowledges funding from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (grant no. 6109-00287B ). Pablo Martinelli Lasheras acknowledges funding from the research projects HAR2016-76814-C2-1-P (AEI/ FEDER UE) funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness , and PID2019-104869GB-I00 , funded by the Spain’s State Research Agency (AEI) of the Ministry of Science and Innovation .


  • Agrarian reform
  • Denmark
  • Land inequality


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