People who occupy positions of power in Finland are typically well-educated men living in the Helsinki area

10 Sep 2010

Over the past century, access to the highest positions in Finnish society has been relatively open and unhindered. Turnover and social mobility among the Finnish elite has been quite high, and the inheritance of elite positions across generations has been comparatively rare. These are some of the key findings of the Academy of Finland’s Power in Finland Research Programme, which is now drawing to its conclusion. The data for these studies come from Who’s Who publications over the past one hundred years.

At the current moment, the average representative of the Finnish elite is a highly educated, Finnish-speaking father of three who occupies an advisory position, lives in the metropolitan Helsinki area and who regularly engages in physical exercise. “Now that an elite position is no longer significantly dependent on hereditary titles or inheritance in general, education has emerged as the single most crucial factor with respect to gaining access to the elite, in the same way as elsewhere in Europe,” says Senior Research Fellow Olli-Pekka Ruuskanen from the Aalto University School of Economics. Women account for no more than 12 per cent of the Finnish elite, but the figure has been rising sharply in recent years. In the most recent dataset the proportion has climbed to one-third.

Education crucial to upward mobility

It is clear from the Who’s Who material that from very early on, access to important social positions required a high education. In the first generation of this dataset, i.e. people born in 1821‒1878, the proportion of degree graduates was over one-half. Furthermore, as the nineteenth century continues to unfold, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach a high social position with a modest education. In the younger generations drawn from the Who’s Who material, nine in ten have an academic degree and one-third have a postgraduate degree, i.e. a licentiate or doctoral degree.

The research project on the Reproduction of Power Structures in Finland 1660–2005 integrated the views and perspectives of various disciplines with the interests of power research. Making use of state-of-the-art information technology, the project compiled an extensive electronic database comprising details from 20,000 personal entries in Who’s Who publications from 1909–2003. Similarly, a register was compiled with personal details on 30,000 members of the Finnish nobility.

“In this project we discovered just how fascinating and rewarding these kinds of extensive minibiographical datasets can be, both for purposes of researching individuals and groups. Among the new research themes emerging from these studies were the potential offered by these registers in exploring the development of public administration and the expansion of professional groups,” says Olli-Pekka Ruuskanen. “The linking of different datasets opened interesting new historical and economic research questions that warrant closer attention in the future.”

For more information, please contact:
Olli-Pekka Ruuskanen, Aalto University School of Economics, tel. +358 40 353 8409, email:

Academy of Finland Communications
Riitta Tirronen
Communications Manager
tel. +358 (0)9 7748 8369, +358 (0)40 828 1724

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