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Structural Impediments to African Growth? New Evidence from Real Wages in British Africa, 1880–1965

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  • Frankema, Ewout
  • Waijenburg, Marlous Van

Abstract

Recent literature on the historical determinants of African poverty has emphasized structural impediments to African growth, such as adverse geographical conditions, weak institutions, or ethnic heterogeneity. But has African poverty been a persistent historical phenomenon? This article checks such assumptions against the historical record. We push African income estimates back in time by presenting urban unskilled real wages for nine British African colonies (1880–1965). We find that African real wages were well above subsistence level and that they rose significantly over time. Moreover, in West Africa and Mauritius real wage levels were considerably higher than those in Asia.

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  • Frankema, Ewout & Waijenburg, Marlous Van, 2012. "Structural Impediments to African Growth? New Evidence from Real Wages in British Africa, 1880–1965," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 72(04), pages 895-926, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:72:y:2012:i:04:p:895-926_00
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    Cited by:

    1. Bolt, Jutta & Hillbom, Ellen, 2013. "Social Structures and Income Distribution in Colonial sub-Saharan Africa. The Case of Bechuanaland Protectorate 1936-1964," Lund Papers in Economic History 130, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    2. Baten, Jörg & Cappelli, Gabriele, 2016. "The Evolution of Human Capital in Africa, 1730 -1970: A Colonial Legacy?," CEPR Discussion Papers 11273, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Prados de la Escosura, Leandro, 2013. "Human development in Africa: A long-run perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 179-204.
    4. Paul Caruana-Galizia, 2015. "Strategic colonies and economic development: real wages in Cyprus, Gibraltar, and Malta, 1836–1913," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(4), pages 1250-1276, November.
    5. Jerven, Morten & Austin, Gareth & Green, Erik & Uche, Chibuike & Frankema, Ewout & Fourie, Johan & Inikori, Joseph & Moradi, Alexander & Hillbom, Ellen, 2012. "Moving Forward in African Economic History. Bridging the Gap Between Methods and Sources," Lund Papers in Economic History 124, Lund University, Department of Economic History.
    6. Fenske, James, 2014. "Trees, tenure and conflict: Rubber in colonial Benin," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 226-238.
    7. Nonso Obikili, 2015. "An Examination of Subnational Growth in Nigeria: 1999-2012," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 83(3), pages 335-356, September.
    8. Ewout Frankema & Morten Jerven, 2014. "Writing history backwards or sideways: towards a consensus on African population, 1850–2010," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(4), pages 907-931, November.
    9. Gareth Austin & Stephen Broadberry, 2014. "Introduction: The renaissance of African economic history," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(4), pages 893-906, November.
    10. Myung Soo Cha, 2015. "Unskilled wage gaps within the Japanese Empire," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 68(1), pages 23-47, February.
    11. Fenske, James, 2013. "“Rubber will not keep in this country”: Failed development in Benin, 1897–1921," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 316-333.
    12. Gareth Austin & Ewout Frankema & Ewout Morten Jerven, 2015. "Patterns of Manufacturing Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Colonization to the Present," Working Papers 0071, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    13. Baten, Joerg & Juif, Dácil, 2014. "A story of large landowners and math skills: Inequality and human capital formation in long-run development, 1820–2000," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(2), pages 375-401.
    14. Humphries, Jane & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2017. "Unreal Wages? Real Income and Economic Growth in England, 1260-1850," CEPR Discussion Papers 11999, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    15. Ewout Frankema & Jeffrey Williamson & Pieter Woltjer, 2015. "An Economic Rationale for the African Scramble: The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1845-1885," NBER Working Papers 21213, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Vidal-Robert, Jordi, 2014. "Long-run effects of the Spanish Inquisition," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 192, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    17. Jedwab, Remi & Vollrath, Dietrich, 2015. "Urbanization without growth in historical perspective," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 1-21.
    18. Morten Jerven, 2016. "The Failure of Economists to Explain Growth in African Economies," Development Policy Review, Overseas Development Institute, vol. 34(6), pages 889-893, November.
    19. Jutta Bolt & Jan Luiten Zanden, 2014. "The Maddison Project: collaborative research on historical national accounts," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(3), pages 627-651, August.
    20. Meier zu Selhausen, Felix P. & van Leeuwen, Marco H.D. & Weisdorf, Jacob L., 2015. "Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Ugandan Marriage Registers 1895-2011," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 239, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    21. Morten Jerven, 2014. "A West African experiment: constructing a GDP series for colonial Ghana, 1891–1950," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 67(4), pages 964-992, November.
    22. repec:gam:jjrfmx:v:10:y:2017:i:4:p:21-:d:118742 is not listed on IDEAS
    23. Philip Hans Franses & Eva Janssens, 2017. "Recovering Historical Inflation Data from Postage Stamps Prices," Journal of Risk and Financial Management, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 10(4), pages 1-11, November.
    24. Meier zu Selhausen, Felix & van Leeuwen, Marco & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2017. "Social Mobility among Christian Africans: Evidence from Anglican Marriage Registers in Uganda, 1895-2011," CEPR Discussion Papers 11767, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    25. Federico Tadei, 2014. "Extractive Institutions and Gains From Trade: Evidence from Colonial Africa," Working Papers 536, IGIER (Innocenzo Gasparini Institute for Economic Research), Bocconi University.

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