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Consumer prices and wages in Germany, 1500 - 1850


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  • Ulrich Pfister


The paper develops a consumer price index and two real wages series for Germany c. 1500–1850. Consumer price indices (CPI) based on eleven goods can be developed for ten towns; one of the two real wage series includes another six towns. Since German bullion markets were little integrated far into the early modern period it is difficult to establish a reliable national CPI. Preference should therefore be given to wage series that can be deflated by local CPIs. The analysis of the aggregate real wage series produces the following insights: First, there was a strong negative feedback between population and the real wage until the middle of the seventeenth century. While the Thirty Years War benefited the material welfare of the survivors through a huge decline in population size, the real wage was probably lower than extrapolated on the basis of the labour productivity schedule, suggesting a net loss in welfare. Second, the relationship between the real wage and population size was much weaker in the eighteenth than in the sixteenth century, which points to a continuous growth of labour productivity. Third, already between the 1810s and 1820s the Malthusian relationship between the real wage and population size prevailing in the eighteenth century was broken. The reasons for this structural rupture remain obscure and require further study.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Quantitative Economics (CQE), University of Muenster in its series CQE Working Papers with number 1510.

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Length: 46 pages
Date of creation: Sep 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cqe:wpaper:1510

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Keywords: Consumer Prices; Germany; 1500;

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Cited by:
  1. Ulrich Pfister & Jana Riedel & Martin Uebele, 2012. "Real Wages and the Origins of Modern Economic Growth in Germany, 16th to 19th Centuries," Working Papers 0017, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
  2. Michael Kopsidis & Ulrich Pfister, 2013. "Agricultural development during early industrialization in a low-wage economy: Saxony, c. 1790-1830," Working Papers 0039, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
  3. Ulrich Pfister & Georg Fertig, 2010. "The population history of Germany: research strategy and preliminary results," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2010-035, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.


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