Psychiatric Impairments and Institutionalization in the Early Swedish Welfare State (1900–1950)

Lotta Vikström, Centre for Demographic and Ageing Research (CEDAR), Umeå University
Liselotte Eriksson, Umeå University
Glenn Sandström, Centre for Demographic and Ageing Research (CEDAR), Umeå University
Johan Junkka, Centre for Demographic and Ageing Research (CEDAR), Umeå University
Frida Skog, Umeå University

Sweden is internationally known for its social welfare-oriented policy. This study investigates psychiatric impairments in Sweden 1900–50, a period of economic growth and expansion of social security systems governed by the social democratic ‘welfare state policy’. Although the living conditions for many Swedes improved, the state exerted a strong control over groups not fitting into perceptions of being ‘healthy and normal’. Institutionalization programs were established, many of which were directed at mental disorders. This study aims to answer the question on how these social policy measures affected a Swedish population by examining (1) the recognition of psychiatric impairments among people depending on gender and class, and (2) the selection of them to institutions. This study bases its results on Swedish parish registers in Västerbotten county (1900–50), digitized by the Demographic Data Base (DDB), Umeå University. At the micro level, these registers report impairments and institutionalization in a population of about 150,000, where some 8,000 have psychiatric impairments. This enables statistical analysis on how these impairments played out in human life and society across time relative to age, gender and class. Our study provides sound empirical evidence of the risks to become recognized with psychiatric impairments in the early phase of Sweden’s welfare era. Women ran substantially higher such risks over time than men, whereas the level of institutionalization was similar among both genders. While contemporary society portrayed workers as having superior ‘genetic quality’ compared to the elite, we find that the social gradient primarily made lower-class people increasingly subject to psychiatric impairments and institutionalization. Our long-term results are exceptional and of international interest as they provide a useful relief of comparisons in comprising a large quantity of individuals whose impairments are difficult to identify historically and thus to examine.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 83. Intellectual Diversity and Mental Health