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Population Dynamics, Malthusian Crises and Boserupian Innovation in Pre-Industrial Societies: The Case Study of Northern Italy (ca. 1450-1800) in the Light of Lee’s "Dynamic Synthesis"


  • Guido Alfani

    () (Bocconi University, Milan
    Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and IGIER)


This article makes use of Lee’s ‘dynamic synthesis’, which aims to combine the views of Malthus and Boserup, to provide a new interpretation of population dynamics in Northern Italy from about 1450 to 1800. The article analyzes Lee’s theory and suggests that, even if it is difficult to test, it is useful both from the point of view of population theory and from that of interpretation of historical cases. Applying it to the Italian case, the article provides a new interpretation of the path that finally led the Italian population to escape long-term limits to demographic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Guido Alfani, 2011. "Population Dynamics, Malthusian Crises and Boserupian Innovation in Pre-Industrial Societies: The Case Study of Northern Italy (ca. 1450-1800) in the Light of Lee’s "Dynamic Synthesis"," Rivista di Politica Economica, SIPI Spa, issue 2, pages 23-56, April-Jun.
  • Handle: RePEc:rpo:ripoec:y:2011:i:2:p:23-56

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oded Galor & Omer Moav, 2002. "Natural Selection and the Origin of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(4), pages 1133-1191.
    2. Matthias Doepke, 2004. "Accounting for Fertility Decline During the Transition to Growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 347-383, September.
    3. Galor, Oded, 2005. "From Stagnation to Growth: Unified Growth Theory," Handbook of Economic Growth,in: Philippe Aghion & Steven Durlauf (ed.), Handbook of Economic Growth, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 4, pages 171-293 Elsevier.
    4. Kevin H. O'Rourke, Ahmed S. Rahman and Alan M. Taylor, 2008. "Luddites and the Demographic Transition," The Institute for International Integration Studies Discussion Paper Series iiisdp266, IIIS.
    5. Nico Voigtländer & Hans-Joachim Voth, 2006. "Why England? Demographic factors, structural change and physical capital accumulation during the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 11(4), pages 319-361, December.
    6. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 1999. "From Malthusian Stagnation to Modern Growth," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 150-154, May.
    7. Oded Galor & Andrew Mountford, 2008. "Trading Population for Productivity: Theory and Evidence," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 75(4), pages 1143-1179.
    8. Holger Strulik & Jacob Weisdorf, 2008. "Population, food, and knowledge: a simple unified growth theory," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 195-216, September.
    9. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Guido Alfani, 2015. "Famines in late Medieval and Early Modern Italy: A test for an advanced economy," Working Papers 082, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    2. Alessandra Minello & Gianpiero Dalla Zuanna & Guido Alfani, 2017. "First signs of transition: The parallel decline of early baptism and early mortality in the province of Padua (northeast Italy), 1816‒1870," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 36(27), pages 759-802, March.
    3. Bruno Chiarini & Elisabetta Marzano, 2014. "Urbanization and Growth: Why Did the Splendor of the Italian Cities in the Sixteenth Century not Lead to Transition?," CESifo Working Paper Series 5038, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Alfani, Guido, 2015. "Economic Inequality in Northwestern Italy: A Long-Term View (Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(04), pages 1058-1096, December.

    More about this item


    Malthus; Boserup; middle ages; early modern period; malthusian crises; plague; famine; agrarian innovation; demographic crises; population theory;

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts


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