Sundt, Eilert Lund
Sundt, Eilert Lund
Eilert Lund Sundt (1817-1875), a pioneer in Norwegian social science and demography, was the author of a large number of works in social statistics and social anthropology that deal with the population of Norway. Sundt came from a middle-class family in the southern part of Norway. His father was captain of a coastal trader and later became a post-office clerk. Sundt was the youngest of 13 children. Encouraged by his mother, he went to the University of Christiania (now Oslo), where he studied theology, graduating in 1846. His outstanding academic work won him a fellowship to study church history.
While employed as a Sunday-school teacher at the Christiania prison, Sundt had an experience of great importance for his later life: he came into contact with several gypsies among the inmates. He began to study these people and to travel extensively in Norway to collect material on their way of life; he also learned their language. After several years of study he published Beretning om fante- eller landstrygerfolket i Norge (1850; “Account of the Gypsy People in Norway”). In this book he established the Hindu extraction of the Norwegian gypsies. He gave an account of their history, their ways and their thinking, and their relationship with the rest of the Norwegian population, and he made suggestions for the future treatment of gypsies in Norway. The book also contained a glossary of Romany, the gypsy language.
Sundt’s study of this lowest stratum of Norwegian society led him to undertake more general field studies of the poor. He covered large parts of the country on foot, doing statistical research. He was also familiar with the existing literature of the social sciences; chiefly, perhaps, he was influenced by the works of Quetelet and by the British Reports of the Poor Law Commission and the Reports of the Register-General. Beginning in 1850 an annual grant from the Norwegian parliament permitted him to continue his research, but in 1869 these grants were discontinued by members of parliament who failed to understand the importance of his work.
In 1855, after five years of further study, he published two demographic essays: Om dødeligheden i Norge (1855a; “On Mortality in Norway”) and Om giftermaal i Norge (1855b; “On Marriage in Norway”). In the study of mortality he presented life tables he had computed for Norway for the period 1821-1850, as well as the results of his investigations into the variable conditions of mortality in different parts of the country. The work on marriage remains one of the classics of demography, because Sundt was the first demographer to observe fluctuations in the growth of populations (for which he coined the term “wave movements”). He showed that the heavy mortality of the years of crop failure in 1742 and 1743 had produced such a fluctuation. This fluctuation was accentuated by further crop failures and famine in the year 1773 and between 1808 and 1812. The consequent variation in the size of cohorts, with peaks recurring at intervals of about thirty years, led in the late 1830s to an absolute decline in the actual number of births and beginning with the end of the 1840s to a very substantial increase in that number.
Sundt’s theory involved him in polemics with those who held that changes in the number of marriages and births are determined only by economic growth or decline. The number of births at a given time is not, he argued, directly determined by whether times are good or bad, although such factors may cause slight postponements or accelerations, but by the number of marriages, and this in turn is a function primarily of the size of the marriageable population.
An analogous issue became important a century later, when P. K. Whelpton and others drew attention to cohort fertility—the number of children couples have in the course of their reproductive life—as against period rates, for example, the number of children born in a year, which are based on cross-sectional data. The Swedish demographer Gustav Sundbarg, who wrote a paper on Sundt in 1894, introduced the term “Eilert Sundt’s law” to designate the pattern Sundt discovered in population fluctuations.
In the following years, Sundt published a series of works in two extensive and separate fields: one dealing with the everyday life, customs, and habits of the Norwegian people, the other dealing with work among the Norwegians. In 1857 there appeared Om saedeligheds-tilstanden i Norge (“On the State of Morality in Norway”), in which, among other things, he entered into an exhaustive discussion of courting customs, particularly the widespread peasant habit of “night wooing,” or bundling, which morally outraged Norway’s urban citizens. In 1858 he published the first community study ever undertaken in northern Europe: Om Piperviken og Ruseløkbakken: Undersøgelser om arbeidsklassens kaar og saedewi Christiania (1858a; “On Piperviken and Ruselokbakken: Investigations Into the Living Conditions and Mores of the Working Class in Christiania”). The book was based on statistical observation of nearly three hundred families, comprising almost fifteen hundred persons, in two poor districts of Christiania and discussed their economic conditions, family income, housing conditions, reading habits, and so on. This was followed by a monograph, Om aedrueligheds-tilstanden i Norge (1859a; “On Temperance Conditions in Norway”), and by Om renligheds-stellet i Norge (1869; “On Cleanliness in Norway”).
Sundt planned to write what he called “the natural history of Norwegian labor.” As part of this project he published three works: Om bygningsskikken paa landet i Norge (1862a; “On House Construction in the Norwegian Countryside”), Fiskeriets bedrift (1862b; “On the Fishing Trade”), and Ora husfliden i Norge (1867; “On Domestic Industry in Norway”); however, he never completed this work.
From 1857 to 1866 Sundt was editor-in-chief of a periodical called Folkevennen (“The People’s Friend”), which was of great importance in furthering popular education. In 1864 he founded the Workers’ Association of Christiania—at that time a nonpolitical organization but today the most important affiliated society of the Norwegian Labor party.
1850 Eeretning om fante- eller landstrygerfolket i Norge (An Account of the Gypsy People in Norway). Christiania: Abelsted.
1855a Om dødeligheden i Norge (On Mortality in Norway). Christiania: Mailings.
1855b Om giftermaal i Norge (On Marriage in Norway). Christiania: Mailings.
1857 Om sædeligheds-tilstanden i Norge (On the State of Morality in Norway). Christiania: Abelsted.
1858a Om Piperviken og Ruseløkbakken: Undersøgelser om arbeidsklassens kaar og saederi Christiania (On Piperviken and Ruselokbakken: Investigations Into the Living Conditions and Mores of the Working Class in Christiania). Christiania: Mailings.
1858b Om Røros og Omegn (On Roros and the Surrounding Districts). Christiania: No publisher given.
1859a Om sedrueligheds-tilstanden i Norge (On Temperance Conditions in Norway). Christiania: Abelsted.
1859b Fortsat beretning om fantefolket (A Continued Account of the Gypsy People). Christiania: Abelsted.
1862a Om bygnings-skikken paa landet i Norge (On House Construction in the Norwegian Countryside). Christiania: Mailings.
1862k Fiskeriets bedrift (On the Fishing Trade). Christiania: No publisher given.
1862c Anden aars-beretning om fantefolket (Second Annual Account of the Gypsy People). Christiania: Abelsted.
1863 Tredje aars-beretning om fantefolket (Third Annual Account of the Gypsy People). Christiania: Abelsted.
1865 Fjerde aars-beretning om fantefolket (Fourth Annual Account of the Gypsy People). Christiania: Abelsted.
1867 Om husfliden i Norge (On Domestic Industry in Norway). Christiania: Abelsted.
1869 Om renligheds-stellet i Norge (On Cleanliness in Norway). Christiania: Abelsted.
Allwood, Martin S. 1957 Eilert Sundt: A Pioneer in Sociology and Social Anthropology. Oslo: Norli. → Contains a bibliography.
Christie, Nils 1958 Eilert Sundt som fanteforsker og sosialstatistiker (Eilert Sundt as Investigator and Social Statistician). Universitetet i Oslo, Instituttet for Sosiologi, Stensilserie. Oslo: The Institute.
Christophersen, Halfdan C. 1962 Eilert Sundt: En dikter i kjensgjeminger. Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk Forlag.