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The heavy plough and the agricultural revolution in medieval Europe

This research tests the long-standing hypothesis, put forth by Lynn White, Jr. (1962), that the adoption of the heavy plough in northern Europe led to increased population density and urbanization. White argued that it was impossible to take proper advantage of the fertile clay soils of northern Europe before the invention and widespread adoption of the heavy plough. We implement the test in a difference-in-difference set-up by exploiting regional variation in the presence of fertile clay soils. Consistent with the hypothesis, we find that regions with relatively more fertile clay soil experienced increased urbanization and population after the plough had its breakthrough, which was approximately around the closing of the first millennium AD. We find that the heavy plough accounts for more than 10% of the increase in population density and urbanization during the high middle ages.

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Paper provided by Department of Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark in its series Discussion Papers of Business and Economics with number 6/2013.

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Length: 54 pages
Date of creation: 08 Mar 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:sdueko:2013_006
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark, Campusvej 55, DK-5230 Odense M, Denmark
Phone: 65 50 32 33
Fax: 65 50 32 37
Web page:

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  1. Edward L. Glaeser, 2014. "A World Of Cities: The Causes And Consequences Of Urbanization In Poorer Countries," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(5), pages 1154-1199, October.
  2. Davide Cantoni & Noam Yuchtman, 2014. "Medieval Universities, Legal Institutions, and the Commercial Revolution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(2), pages 823-887.
  3. Koepke, Nikola & Baten, Joerg, 2008. "Agricultural specialization and height in ancient and medieval Europe," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 127-146, April.
  4. Douglass C. North, 2005. "Introduction to Understanding the Process of Economic Change
    [Understanding the Process of Economic Change]
    ," Introductory Chapters, Princeton University Press.
  5. Fujita, Masahisa & Hamaguchi, Nobuaki, 2001. "Intermediate goods and the spatial structure of an economy," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 79-109, February.
  6. Oded Galor, 2011. "Unified Growth Theory and Comparative Development," Rivista di Politica Economica, SIPI Spa, issue 2, pages 9-21, April-Jun.
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