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. The situation was quite different 100 years ago. At that time, the system was a welfare system. Only the weakest and poorest in society could receive government assistance and there were significant local differences in the help received.

Many of our social benefits have been introduced gradually. Some began just before World War II (1940-1945), while most have been built up gradually after 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: Natural insurance law passed