Giving in Norway: An Ambitious Welfare State with a Self-Reliant Nonprofit Sector

  • Karl Henrik Sivesind


Norway has a weak philanthropic tradition due to small social, cultural and economic differences within the population. After being subject to Danish rule for 400 years, Norway became independent in 1814, reorganizing under its own constitution. Few feudal structures remained, and the nobility was abolished. The civil servants appointed by the Danish king formed an enclave of immigrants, and the upper-middle class was small and not very self-confident. The fishermen and peasants were rather poor, yet they enjoyed more freedom and equality than elsewhere in Europe, even before the labor movement started pushing for greater equality. This had resulted in a common set of values for the upper and lower classes. In the local communities, people reinforced mutual normative control, forcing everybody to work. Not working was criminalized and begging was only allowed for certain groups such as disabled and pupils. Resources were scarce, and it was almost impossible to survive the harsh climate without being part of a household that produced heat and food. As Henrik Stenius (2010, p. 41) writes, ‘Wealth was limited and those who had more of it were led to think that giving away donations was not necessarily a good deed. Much better was to try to force everybody to do their duty (i.e., work).’ Thus, private charity was very uncommon, and resources for helping the deserving poor were gathered and distributed mainly by the local church. While the Nordic countries had some examples of hospitals and charitable women’s societies, such philanthropic practices sprang out of an urban culture that was very marginal in Norway since a major part of the population was scattered along the coast and in rural areas.


Gross Domestic Product Voluntary Organization Welfare Service Voluntary Association Voluntary Sector 
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