Updated: Jul 16, 2019
By Callie Fabac
From the 1840s through 1875, Norway’s economy flourished as a result of agriculture and timber industries. Labor productivity increased, and the Norwegian merchant fleet grew rapidly. By the end of the century it was the most prominent in the world, after the American and the British. In the 1860s specifically, the economy enjoyed more success due to industrialization that allowed for the growth of food and dairy industries.
However, right after this period of rapid industrialization, Norway’s economic upsurge slowed. This was partly due to a change of currency, to the Krone which was part of the gold standard. Norway was also very dependent on the international economy and foreign trade, so Swedish Protectionism restricted Norway, harming their economy. It was largely these foreign policy differences that eventually led Norway to end their union with Sweden in 1905.
The period of Industrialization followed by the economic downfall had other unforeseen consequences: a middle class formed and the role of women began to shift. The growing poverty of the country resulted in a rural exodus. This led to disintegration of the family unit, an increase in births outside marriage, and an overwhelming increase in prostitution. Strong reactions followed, which focused public attention on the problem of sexual morality.
Marriage was still regarded as the basic unit of society, but one that should be reformed. The debate focused on political solutions to women's inequality. Some thinkers, like Hans Jaeger, even suggested marriage be replaced entirely by free love. The radical time led to radical ideas against this resilient societal institution, paving the way for writers like Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Amalie Skram to transform and awake society’s consciousness to these issues.