Jørgen Modalsli

Welcome to my home page, where I present my research. I have grouped it here under four headings: Intergenerational mobility, inequality, health and education. Many of the papers consider long-run trends and economic development in Norway, and methodological issues related to comparisons across different time periods. You are welcome to contact me to ask about published work and/or work in progress.

I am Professor of Economics at Oslo Business School at Oslo Metropolitan University.

Homepage at OsloMet

Google Scholar profile page

Phone: +47 4127 0978 (mobile); 6723 5197 (office)

Email: jorgenmo@oslomet.no

CV (pdf)

Intergenerational mobility

Spillover bias in multigenerational income regressions

(with Kelly Vosters)

Accepted for publication by Journal of Human Resources. (Link) (Preprint)

A growing literature studies long-term income persistence across more than two generations. Despite a rich understanding of measurement-related biases for the parent-child model, far less is known for the multigenerational model that captures transmission from parents and grandparents. We show that even using a 25-year income average can result in a spurious grandparent coefficient. Importantly, for a given parental measure, averaging over more years for grandparents increases spillover bias. We propose an IV approach that can more effectively mitigate bias with shorter timespans of income. With Norwegian administrative data, we reveal a positive spillover bias in the grandfather coefficients.

Multigenerational persistence: Evidence from 146 years of administrative data

Journal of Human Resources 58(3), 2023. (Link) (Preprint)

This paper documents multigenerational persistence in economic status, showing that not only do parents influence children’s economic outcomes, but so too do grandparents and great-grandparents. Economic persistence is measured using direct grandfather-father-son links, including up to five generations, in administrative data from Norway spanning nearly 150 years (1865 to 2011). The findings are robust to alternative ways of measuring the characteristics of the parent generation, and to alternative indicators of economic status. High persistence is observed also in subsamples where grandchildren had less chance to interact directly with grandparents, suggesting an important role of unexpressed family characteristics in intergenerational transmission. The results indicate a slower occupational convergence across families over time than what is implied by parent-child associations.

Who benefited from industrialization? The local effects of hydropower technology adoption in Norway

(with Stefan Leknes)

Journal of Economic History 80(1), 2020. (Link) (Local copy)

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.

Replication data (OpenICPSR)

Intergenerational occupational mobility in Norway, 1865-2011

Scandinavian Journal of Economics 119(1), 2017. (Link) (Preprint)

There are large differences in intergenerational mobility between countries. Little is known, however, about how persistent such differences are, and how they evolve over time. This paper constructs a data set of 835,537 linked father-son pairs from census records and documents a substantial increase in intergenerational occupational mobility in Norway between 1865 and 2011. The increase is most pronounced in non-farm occupations. The findings show that long-run mobility developments previously described for the US and UK are not necessarily representative for other countries, and that high mobility in a given country today need not reflect high mobility before industrialization.

Related article in Norwegian: Stor økning i yrkesmobiliteten fra 1800-tallet til i dag. Samfunnsspeilet 1, 2017. (Link)

Estimating occupational mobility with covariates

Economics Letters 133, 2015. (Link) (Preprint)

The Altham statistic is often used to calculate intergenerational associations in occupations in studies of historical social mobility. This paper presents a method to incorporate individual covariates into such estimates of social mobility, and to construct corresponding confidence intervals. The method is applied to an intergenerational sample of Norwegian data, showing that estimates of intergenerational mobility are robust to the inclusion of controls for father’s and son’s age.

Female labor force participation and intergenerational mobility

(with Daniele Paserman, Claudia Olivetti and Laura Salisbury)

Work in progress.

Female labor force participation in census microdata, ca. 1910

Work in progress.


Estimating long-run income inequality from mixed tabular data: Empirical evidence from Norway, 1875-2017

(with Rolf Aaberge and Anthony B. Atkinson)

Journal of Public Economics 187, 2020. (Link) (Preprint)

Most evidence on the long-run evolution of income inequality is restricted to top income shares. While this evidence is relevant and important for studying the concentration of economic power, it is incomplete as an informational basis for analysing inequality in the income distribution as a whole. This paper proposes a non-parametric approach for estimating inequality in the overall distribution of income on the basis of tabular data from different sources, some in a highly aggregated form. The proposed approach is applied to Norway, for which rich historical data exist. We find evidence of very high income inequality from the late nineteenth century until the eve of World War II, followed by a rapid equalization until the 1950s. Income inequality remained low during the post-war period but has increased steadily since the 1980s. Estimates of a measure of affluence demonstrate that overall inequality has largely been governed by changes in the top half of the distribution and in the ratio between the mean incomes of the lower and upper halves of the population.

Gini coefficient for Norway, 1875-2017 (xlsx) - Lorenz curves for Norway (plots), 1875-2015 (pdf)

The regional dispersion of income inequality in nineteenth-century Norway

Explorations in Economic History 67, 2018. (Link) (Preprint)

This paper documents, for the first time, municipality- and occupation-level estimates of income inequality between individuals in a European country in the nineteenth century, using a combination of several detailed data sets for Norway in the late 1860s. Urban incomes were on average 4.5 times as high as rural incomes, and the average city Gini coefficient was twice the average rural municipality Gini. All high- or medium-income occupation groups exhibited substantial within-occupation income inequality. Across municipalities, income inequality is higher in high-income municipalities, and lower in muncipalities with high levels of fisheries and pastoral agriculture. While manufacturing activity is positively correlated with income inequality, the association is not apparent when other economic factors such as the mode of food production is accounted for. The income Gini for Norway as a whole is found to have been 0.546, slightly higher than estimates for the UK and US in the same period.

Replication data (OpenICPSR)

Decomposing global inequality

Review of Income and Wealth 63(3), 2017. (Link) (Preprint)

This paper provides an intuitive additive decomposition of the global income Gini coefficient with respect to differences within and between countries. In 2005, nearly half the total global income inequality is due to income differences between Europeans and North Americans on the one side and inhabitants of Asia on the other, with the China-USA income differences alone accounting for six percent of global inequality. Historically, income differences between Asia and Europe have driven a large part of global inequality, but the quantitative importance of within-Asia income inequality has increased substantially since 1950.

Inequality in the very long run: inferring inequality from data on social groups

Journal of Economic Inequality 13(2), 2015. (Link) (Preprint)

This paper presents a new method for calculating Gini coefficients from tabulations of the mean income of social classes. Income distribution data from before the Industrial Revolution usually come in the form of such tabulations, called social tables. Inequality indices generated from social tables are frequently calculated without adjusting for within-group income dispersion, leading to a systematic downward bias in the reporting of pre-industrial inequality. The correction method presented in this paper is applied to an existing collection of twenty-five social tables, from Rome in AD 1 to India in 1947. The corrections, using a variety of assumptions on within-group dispersion, lead to substantial increases in the Gini coefficients.

Skjev kjønnsbalanse i toppen av inntektsfordelingen [Gender bias at the top of the income distribution]

Søkelys på arbeidslivet 32(4), 2016. (Link - open access)

This article presents trends in the share of women and men among those with the highest incomes in Norway over the last decades, and compares the levels to other countries for which comparable data exists. A strong gender bias is found. There are more men than women at the top for all age groups, and capital income is relatively more predominant among top income women than among top income men. Historical data shows that the share of women in the top 1 % in 1911 was almost 8 %, not much lower than the levels observed in the 1990s.

Regional income in Norway, 1900-2010

Chapter in: The economic development of Europe’s regions; a quantitative history since 1900 (editors Joan Roses and Nikolaus Wolf), Routledge 2018 (Link)

This chapter contributes to the knowledge about Norwegian regional productivity in three ways. First, existing regional GDP estimates from 1965 onwards are collected and harmonized. Second, historical income data are used to extend the estimates back to 1900. Third, a preliminary analysis of the data is conducted.

How business income measures affect income inequality and the tax burden

(with Rolf Aaberge, Marco Francesconi and Ola Vestad)

Working paper, 2023. (Download)

This paper presents estimates of income concentration and inequality for Norway using a new comprehensive measure of income, which identifies business income as it is earned by companies rather than when it is paid out as dividends to owners. We assemble several sources of high quality register data that allow us to account for multiple layers of business ownership across all companies between 2001 and 2018. Compared to official statistics, the new measure implies that the share of income attributable to the top 1% of the distribution more than doubles and the Gini coefficient estimates increase by about 40%. Our new measure identifies substantial tax regressivity for individuals in the top percentile, a feature that cannot be detected by standard income measures. For instance, while the share of gross income paid in taxes by individuals at the 99th percentile is about 36% in 2016, the corresponding share paid by individuals in the top 1% is 19%.

The ins and outs of top income mobility

(with Rolf Aaberge and Anthony B. Atkinson)

Working paper, 2016. (Download)

This paper is concerned with whether top income recipients are permanently there or only temporarily receive the highest incomes. The first part of the paper makes a methodological contribution to answering these questions. A family of top income mobility measures is introduced, based on differences in average annual incomes of top income earners in short-term and long-term distributions of income. The second part of the paper employs the rich Norwegian income tax records to study top income mobility in Norway since 1967, finding low levels of top income mobility, but a relatively large rise starting around 1990.

Measuring long-run wealth inequality

(with Rolf Aaberge and Edda Solbakken)

Working paper, 2019. Available on request

Occupational change and income inequality

(with Sara Cools and Marte Strøm)

Work in progress.

Shorter articles about income inequality, in Norwegian:

  • Ulikheten - betydelig større enn statistikken viser (with Rolf Aaberge and Ola Vestad). SSB Analyse 13, 2020. (Link)
  • Småbruk, vekst og fordeling (with Rolf Aaberge and Espen Søbye). Nytt Norsk Tidsskrift 1, 2017. (Link)
  • Fordelingen av inntekter i Norge fra 1875 til i dag (with Rolf Aaberge). Plan 3, 2014 (Link)
  • Viktig om inntekts- og formuesfordelingens historie. Book review of Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, Minerva (online), 2014 (Link)
  • Er rike mennesker alltid rike? (with Rolf Aaberge and Tony Atkinson). Økonomiske Analyser 4, 2013 (Link)


Association of household income with life expectancy and cause-specific mortality in Norway, 2005-2015

(with Jonas Minet Kinge, Simon Øverland, Håkon Kristian Gjessing, Mette Christophersen Tollånes, Ann Kristin Knudsen, Vegard Skirbekk, Bjørn Heine Strand, Siri Eldevik Håberg and Stein Emil Vollset)

JAMA 321(19), 2019. (Link)

Question: In Norway, a country with a largely tax-financed universal health care system and moderate income differences, does life expectancy vary with income, and are differences comparable to differences in the United States? Findings: In this registry-based study that included data from 3 041 828 persons aged at least 40 years in Norway between 2005 and 2015, the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest 1\% was 8.4 years for women and 13.8 years for men. The differences widened between 2005 and 2015 and were comparable to those in the United States. Meaning: Inequalities in life expectancy by income in Norway were substantial and increased between 2005 and 2015.

Call the midwife. Health personnel and mortality in Norway 1887–1920

(with Andreas Kotsadam and Jo Thori Lind)

Cliometrica 16, 2022. (Link - open access)

At the turn of the twentieth century, Norway, like many other countries, experienced a decrease in mortality and a substantial increase in the number of health personnel. In order to assess how these changes were connected, we investigate the relationship between health personnel and mortality using data at the medical district level (N=106) covering a period of 34 years. We find a large and robust effect of midwives on reduced maternal mortality in rural areas, but no effect in urban areas. No clear effect is found for other types of health personnel or on infant mortality. The results demonstrate the important role played by public health investments during the period.

Health personnel and mortality data set (UiO Dataverse)


Distance and choice of field: Evidence from a Norwegian college expansion reform

(with Tora Kjærnes Knutsen and Marte Rønning)

Working paper, 2022. (Download)

How can geographical proximity to college explain field of study choices? We empirically address this question using the major expansion of university colleges in Norway in the second half of the twentieth century, when 33 new higher education institutions were established in areas that did not previously have access to higher education. Our findings indicate that take-up of the relevant educations (nursing, engineering and business administration) increased substantially with the establishment of new colleges. However, we do not find evidence of an increase in education on earnings capacity overall, suggesting that the new colleges shifted individuals on the intensive rather than extensive margin, between education tracks of similar length. We discuss challenges related to the estimation of education choices in a population that often started higher education late, well into their twenties, and also document that traditional gender differences persisted.

A college on every cape: Gender equality, gender segregation and higher educational expansion

(with Adrian Farner Rogne and Tora Kjærnes Knutsen)

Working paper, 2023. (Available on SocArxiv)

The great expansion of higher educational systems in Western countries in the latter half of the 20th century had a profound impact on educational opportunities and is central to understanding the reversal of the gender gap in higher education. In Norway, major educational reforms starting in the late 1960s aimed at making higher education more accessible for large segments of the population, particularly young women who were graduating from high school at an increasing rate. This occurred through the upgrading, establishment, and gradual expansion of local and regional colleges across the country, especially in female-dominated fields associated with work in expanding public welfare sectors. Theories and previous research have suggested that the gendered profile of educational expansions contributed to the cementing of horizontal gender segregation patterns in education and the labor market. We shed light on these processes using new and detailed data on the establishment and upgrading of higher educational institutions between 1969 and 1993. Linking these data to individual-level register data allows us to study how regional variation in educational opportunities affected the educational attainment and field of study choices of young women and men, using a difference-in-differences (DiD)/event study approach. While increased access to college education was a prerequisite for the reversal of the gender gap, our findings suggest that the location of colleges mattered very little. Colleges had, at most, a very modest impact on local educational attainment and gendered field of study choices. We discuss the implications of these findings for policy and sociological theory.