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Who Benefited from Industrialization? The Local Effects of Hydropower Technology Adoption in Norway

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 December 2019

Stefan Leknes
Researcher, Statistics Norway, Research Department, Akersveien 26, 0177 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:
Jørgen Modalsli
Head of Department, Oslo Business School at Oslo Metropolitan University, Pilestredet 35, 0166 Oslo, Norway and Senior Researcher, Statistics Norway, Research Department, Akersveien 26, 0177 Oslo, Norway. E-mail:


This paper studies the impact of the construction of hydropower facilities on labor market outcomes in Norway at the turn of the twentieth century (1891–1920). The sudden breakthrough in hydropower technology provides a quasi-experimental setting, as not all municipalities had suitable natural endowments and the possible production sites were often located in remote areas. We find that hydropower municipalities experienced faster structural transformation and displayed higher occupational mobility. We interpret this as evidence that this early twentieth-century technology was skill biased, as workers in the new skilled jobs were recruited from a broad segment of the population.

© The Economic History Association 2019

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We thank Lars Kirkebøen, Matz Dahlberg, Edson Severnini, Sebastian Braun, attendees at the Annual Conference of the Economic History Society in London 2017, the 12th Meeting of the Urban Economic Association in Vancouver 2017, the Allied Social Sciences Association in Atlanta 2019, and the Economic History Colloquium at the University of Bayreuth, the Editor, and two referees for comments and suggestions. We are grateful for excellent ArcGIS assistance from Margrete Steinnes and Kirsten Holz. Support from the Norwegian Research Council is acknowledged.



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