Political exclusions attributable to poor relief in early twentieth-century Finland

Short papers
By Elina K. Einiö, Hanna Wass, Miia Heinonen

Finland was a pioneer in the democratization of Europe, granting women the right to vote on equal terms with men as early as 1906. In principle, men and women from all social classes were permitted to vote and stand for election. However, a proportion of the adult population – those who regularly received poor relief – was excluded from suffrage. Using internationally unique microdata on over 19,000 poor-relief recipients and the corresponding population registers of two provinces in Finland, we estimated the extent to which gender and age determined disenfranchisement due to poor relief during the 1911 parliamentary elections. Our results indicate that a disproportionate share of women, and especially of older people, were disenfranchised due to poor relief. The analysis provides novel evidence of the hidden discriminatory effects of an early welfare scheme. The system of poor relief not only provided support for older people in need but also disqualified many of them from political citizenship and introduced gender inequality in basic rights.


  • poverty
  • suffrage
  • vote
  • life-cycle effect
  • ageing
  • gender inequality
  • Finland
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