Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/Social Developments of the Nineteenth Century

Social Developments of the Nineteenth Century

It was primitive, homogeneous society that existed in Denmark, as in many other countries, in the eighteenth century; but the enormous development which took place in the next century led to many changes. As early as the last decade of the eighteenth century the population had begun rapidly to increase, and it continued to do so throughout the nineteenth century. In 1801 the total population of Denmark was 929,000; in 1901 it was 2,450,000. The great technical development of both agriculture and industry provided a better living and even a fuller and easier life in 1901 for a population three times as large as that of a hundred years before.

But, meanwhile, the character of the community had completely changed. In the rural districts a large class of cottars or farm labourers had grown up alongside the seventy thousand peasants; and in the towns industries had developed which gave employment to large numbers of workmen who were widely separated, both socially and economically, from their employers, even though there still existed a middle stratum of society whose time-honoured customs and modes of thinking served, to a certain extent, to bridge the gap between the upper and lower classes. Moreover, the social reforms of the eighteenth century had been carried out without any pecuniary sacrifices; indeed, they had brought increased wealth to the country. This was not the case, however, in the nineteenth century. Almost all the land had now been allotted; and if the poorest class, the cottars, were to be helped, large assessments or voluntary contributions had to be made for that purpose. The obligation to relieve the poor rested in no less degree on the growing population of the towns. But in spite of all that had been done, the general state of affairs was not auspicious. The large group of the 'poor', so named in the census of 1787 without other qualification, indicated that circumstances were stringent even then and that the germs of coming troubles were already developing.

As has already been stated, the peasants (freeholders and leaseholders) formed the solid core of the population. In 1787 they numbered 74,000 males over twenty years of age. There were also about 22,000 cottars (males over twenty) and between 3,000 and 4,000 'landless men' or farm hands, besides 38,000 male servants and 16,000 labourers over twenty years of age, most of whom worked in the field. In 1911 the peasants (large and small farmers) numbered about 68,000 males over eighteen years of age, besides 86,000 cottars. Thus the latter class increased fourfold, while the number of farmers remained about the same. In addition there was a very large number of farm-hands and servants, of whom the peasants employed about 60,000 over eighteen years of age and the cottars between 6,000 and 7,000, as well as about 33,000 labourers. Everywhere it is to be noted that the lower classes greatly increased in numbers.

If we glance at the statistics of trade and industry for the last four generations, we note a similar change. In 1911 there were throughout the country about 72,000 male employers over eighteen years of age, about 10,000 office-workers and 138,000 workmen proper. Labour tended to concentrate in the capital of the country, Copenhagen, in a proportion of about five workmen to one employer; in other towns there were approximately three workmen to one employer; in the country, scarcely one. But while the industrial development of Denmark has been slight in comparison with that of other countries, it has, nevertheless, been sufficient to form a gulf between employers and employees. The strong class feeling of earlier periods still exists, but in a new form; its basis is no longer trade rivalry, but the antagonism of capital and labour, which often develops to the point of open conflict.

It would not be correct to consider the changes in the structure of society as chiefly responsible for our present social ideas, since the latter would certainly have sprung up even if the classes had remained in the apparent relative conditions of 1787. But these changes must necessarily have influenced our present problems and their solution, giving them a different character and greater dimensions.