Democracy and Welfare Society

Historic development

From poor relief fund to welfare state

Suppeservering for vanføre, 1905, (Oslo Museum, fotograf: Anders Beer Wilse)

Historically speaking, the welfare state as we know it in present-day Norway is actually a young system. Today, the Norwegian welfare system is for all its inhabitants. Things were different a hundred years ago. We can call the old system the social assistance state. Public assistance was only available for the weakest and poorest people in society, and there were great local differences in the assistance provided.

Many of our social benefits and services have developed gradually. Some were introduced before World War II (1940–1945), but most of them have been fought for and enshrined in law since the war.

But there is one social benefit with a very long tradition in Norway, namely, free education for children since 1739!

Many of these benefits have been introduced because workers have fought for them. Over the past 60-70 years, there has been relatively broad political agreement on the responsibility of the government for guaranteeing the welfare of its citizens.

Arbeidsstue for barn, ca 1920 Frelsesarmeens suppekjøkken for uteliggere, 1920 Kø ved Christiania Dampkjøkken, 1903 Arbeidsstue for barn (1920)



  • 1909: Health insurance law passed
  • 1915: Working hours law passed (maximum of 10 hours a day and 54 hours a week)
  • 1935: Unemployment benefit law passed
  • 1937: Worker protection law passed (including 9 days of paid holiday leave each year)
  • 1946: Child benefits are introduced
  • 1956: Sickness benefits for all are introduced
  • 1957: Occupational injury benefits and old age pension are introduced
  • 1960: Disability benefit introduced
  • 1965: Widow and single parent benefit introduced
  • 1967: National insurance law passed