Life after death : The diffusion of Swedish life insurance - Dynamics of financial and social modernization 1830-1950

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to understand the diffusion process of Swedish life insurance during the period c. 1830-1950, with the specific aim to understand financial modernization and social mobilization as reflected in the diffusion of life insurance to less well-to-do classes and women. In contrast to British and American experiences, the results of this thesis show that the rural classes played an important role in the diffusion of Swedish life insurance. The thesis shows that demand-side factors such as income and urbanisation cannot fully explain this diffusion of life insurance, and why additionally, non-quantitative factors need to be addressed. It is shown how cultural preferences assist in understanding the development of industrial life insurance in different countries. It is also stressed that women, in their capacity as policyholders, beneficiaries of life policies, as dependents, and their limited property rights, constituted the conditions under which the life insurance industry had to adjust and operate. In sum, female policyholders, cultural representations of women and legal constraints on women, constituted an important subset of the 'rules of the game' for the life insurance industry. Important results of the thesis are that female policyholders constituted a large part of the policyholders in the largest industrial life insurance company already in the early twentieth century. It is furthermore shown that life insurance representatives were members in organizations of the women's movement and that they acted for married women's property rights in parliament. It is also argued that different notions of 'a good death', as reflected in funeral practices, contributed to different developments of private and public insurance in Sweden and the United States. By widening the concept of 'business' and recognizing the cultural and social contexts under which the industry operated, this thesis highlights the interaction between business and social change.