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We Do Not Know the Population of Every Country in the World for the Past Two Thousand Years

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  • Guinnane, Timothy W.

Abstract

Economists have reported results based on populations for every country in the world for the past two thousand years. The source, McEvedy and Jones’ Atlas of World Population History, includes many estimates that are little more than guesses and that do not reflect research since 1978. McEvedy and Jones often infer population sizes from their view of a particular economy, making their estimates poor proxies for economic growth. Their rounding means their measurement error is not “classical.” Some economists augment that error by disaggregating regions in unfounded ways. Econometric results that rest on McEvedy and Jones are unreliable. “… we haven’t just pulled the figures out of the sky. Well, not often.” —McEvedy and Jones (1978, p. 11)

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  • Guinnane, Timothy W., 2023. "We Do Not Know the Population of Every Country in the World for the Past Two Thousand Years," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 83(3), pages 912-938, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:83:y:2023:i:3:p:912-938_8
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    Cited by:

    1. Martina Cioni & Giovanni Federico & Michelangelo Vasta, 2022. "Persistence studies: a new kind of economic history?," Review of Regional Research: Jahrbuch für Regionalwissenschaft, Springer;Gesellschaft für Regionalforschung (GfR), vol. 42(3), pages 227-248, December.
    2. Peter M. Solar, 2021. "China, Europe, and the Great Divergence: Further Concerns about the Historical GDP Estimates for China," Working Papers 0217, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).

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    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • O40 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - General
    • O47 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - Empirical Studies of Economic Growth; Aggregate Productivity; Cross-Country Output Convergence
    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • C18 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Methodolical Issues: General

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