Jørgen Modalsli

This page presents my research. I have grouped it here under three headings: Intergenerational mobility, income inequality and public services. 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 head of Oslo Business School at Oslo Metropolitan University and Senior Researcher (part time) at Statistics Norway.

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. (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

Accepted for publication by Journal of Human Resources. (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)

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 twentiethcentury 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.

Income inequality

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)

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.

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.

Measuring long-run wealth inequality

(with Rolf Aaberge and Edda Solbakken)

Working paper, 2019. Available on request

The ins and outs of top income mobility

(with Rolf Aaberge and Tony Atkinson)

Working paper, 2016. Available on request

Business income and economic inequality

(with Rolf Aaberge, Ola Vestad and Marco Francesconi)

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)

Public services

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

(with Andreas Kotsadam and Jo Thori Lind)

Cliometrica, 2021. (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.

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

(with Tora Kjærnes Knutsen and Marte Rønning)

Working paper, 2021 (available on request)