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People who settled in this area primarily lived from farming. Norway was unusual in some ways in relation to other agricultural societies: The farms were spread out and people did not live in villages. The farmers were freemen – they were not owned by big landowners. Most of them also owned their own farms. Norway was an agricultural society until the late 19th century. Up until the Middle Ages, people combined farming with fishing, either for their own consumption or for sale to countries further south in Europe.  

From the 16th century onwards, increasing numbers of people worked in forestry, either for export or to produce timber for use in mines and ironworks. Trade and shipping grew in importance in parallel with agriculture, and industry became increasingly important from the 1850s onwards. Most of the towns were relatively small, except for Oslo, which has been Norway's capital since 1814. As late as 1920, 57 per cent of Norway's population lived in rural areas, and not in towns or cities. Large-scale industry also became established in Norway, and in 1969, industry accounted for 41 per cent of the country's income. Oil was later discovered in the North Sea and oil production became a new important source of income.

The number of people employed in industry declined from 1973 onwards, while the number of employees in service occupations increased. In the public sector, there were more jobs in schools and health and care services, while in the private sector people increasingly worked in a whole range of jobs, everything from petrol stations to banks. Today, we can describe Norway as a service and information society.

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