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The Potato's Contribution to Population and Urbanization: Evidence From A Historical Experiment

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  • Nathan Nunn
  • Nancy Qian

Abstract

We exploit regional variation in suitability for cultivating potatoes, together with time variation arising from their introduction to the Old World from the Americas, to estimate the impact of potatoes on Old World population and urbanization. Our results show that the introduction of the potato was responsible for a significant portion of the increase in population and urbanization observed during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to our most conservative estimates, the introduction of the potato accounts for approximately one-quarter of the growth in Old World population and urbanization between 1700 and 1900. Additional evidence from within-country comparisons of city populations and adult heights also confirms the cross-country findings. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

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  • Nathan Nunn & Nancy Qian, 2011. "The Potato's Contribution to Population and Urbanization: Evidence From A Historical Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(2), pages 593-650.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:126:y:2011:i:2:p:593-650
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    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • N1 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations
    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • O14 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Industrialization; Manufacturing and Service Industries; Choice of Technology

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