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From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversion and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History

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  • Maristella Botticini
  • Zvi Eckstein

Abstract

From the end of the second century C.E., Judaism enforced a religious norm requiring any Jewish father to educate his children. We present evidence supporting our thesis that this exogenous change in the religious and social norm had a major influence on Jewish economic and demographic history. First, the high individual and community cost of educating children in subsistence farming economies (2nd to 7th centuries) prompted voluntary conversions, which account for a large share of the reduction in the size of the Jewish population from about 4.5 million to 1.2 million. Second, the Jewish farmers who invested in education, gained the comparative advantage and incentive to enter skilled occupations during the vast urbanization in the newly developed Muslim Empire (7th and 8th centuries) and they actually did select themselves into these occupations. Third, as merchants the Jews invested even more in education–a pre-condition for the extensive mailing network and common court system that endowed them with trading skills demanded all over the world. Fourth, the Jews generated a voluntary diaspora by migrating within the Muslim Empire, and later to western Europe where they were invited to settle as high skill intermediaries by local rulers. By 1200, the Jews were living in hundreds of towns from England and Spain in the West to China and India in the East. Fifth, the majority of world Jewry (about one million) lived in the Near East when the Mongol invasions in the 1250s brought this region back to a subsistence farming economy in which many Jews found it difficult to enforce the religious norm regarding education, and hence, voluntarily converted, exactly as it had happened centuries earlier.

Suggested Citation

  • Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein, 2006. "From Farmers to Merchants, Voluntary Conversion and Diaspora: A Human Capital Interpretation of Jewish History," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 2, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  • Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:2
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Michael Kremer, 1993. "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(3), pages 681-716.
    2. Rapoport, Hillel & Weiss, Avi, 2002. "In-Group Cooperation in a Hostile Environment: An Economic Perspective on Some Aspects of Jewish Life in (Pre-Modern) Diaspora," IZA Discussion Papers 483, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    3. Timur Kuran, 1997. "Islam and Underdevelopment: An Old Puzzle Revisited," Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (JITE), Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 153(1), pages 1-41, March.
    4. Temin, Peter, 1997. "Is it Kosher to Talk about Culture?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 57(2), pages 267-287, June.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The myth of the Protestant work ethic
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2007-02-05 22:23:59
    2. Some benefits of religion
      by chris dillow in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2013-02-10 19:54:16

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 124(2), pages 531-596.
    2. Maristella Botticini & Zvi Eckstein, 2006. "Path Dependence and Occupations," Boston University - Department of Economics - The Institute for Economic Development Working Papers Series DP-154, Boston University - Department of Economics.
    3. Gradstein, Mark, 2008. "Endogenous Reversals of Fortune," IZA Discussion Papers 3469, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Iyigun, Murat, 2007. "Monotheism (From a Sociopolitical and Economic Perspective)," IZA Discussion Papers 3116, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Maria Saez-Marti & Fabrizio Zilibotti, 2008. "Preferences as Human Capital: Rational Choice Theories of Endogenous Preferences and Socioeconomic Changes," Finnish Economic Papers, Finnish Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 81-94, Autumn.
    6. Iyigun, Murat, 2006. "Ottoman Conquests and European Ecclesiastical Pluralism," IZA Discussion Papers 1973, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    7. Stelios Michalopoulos, 2008. "The Origins of Ethnolinguistic Diversity: Theory and Evidence," Discussion Papers Series, Department of Economics, Tufts University 0725, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
    8. Iyigun, Murat, 2008. "Lessons from the Ottoman Harem (On Ethnicity, Religion and War)," IZA Discussion Papers 3556, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    social norms; religion; human capital; Jewish economic and demographic history; occupational choice; migration.;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor
    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • O1 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development
    • Z12 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Religion
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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