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The Social Implications of Sugar: Living Costs, Real Incomes and Inequality in Jamaica c1774

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  • Trevor Burnard
  • Laura Panza
  • Jeffrey G. Williamson

Abstract

This paper provides the first quantitative assessment of Jamaican standards of living and income inequality around 1774. To this purpose we compute welfare ratios for a range of occupations and build a social table. We find that the slave colony had extremely high living costs, which rose steeply during the American War of Independence, and low standards of living, particularly for its enslaved population. Our results also show that due to its extreme poverty surrounding extreme wealth Jamaica was the most unequal place in the pre-modern world. Furthermore, all of these characteristics applied to the free population alone.

Suggested Citation

  • Trevor Burnard & Laura Panza & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2017. "The Social Implications of Sugar: Living Costs, Real Incomes and Inequality in Jamaica c1774," NBER Working Papers 23897, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23897
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Allen, Robert C. & Murphy, Tommy E. & Schneider, Eric B., 2012. "The Colonial Origins of the Divergence in the Americas: A Labor Market Approach," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 72(04), pages 863-894, December.
    2. Robert C. Allen & Jean-Pascal Bassino & Debin Ma & Christine Moll-Murata & Jan Luiten Van Zanden, 2011. "Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738–1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan, and India," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64, pages 8-38, February.
    3. Peter H. Lindert & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2016. "Unequal Gains: American Growth and Inequality since 1700," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 10670, December.
    4. Eltis, David & Engerman, Stanley L., 2000. "The Importance of Slavery and the Slave Trade to Industrializing Britain," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 123-144, March.
    5. Roberts,Justin, 2013. "Slavery and the Enlightenment in the British Atlantic, 1750–1807," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107025851, December.
    6. Allen,Robert C., 2009. "The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521868273, June.
    7. Allen, Robert C., 2001. "The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(4), pages 411-447, October.
    8. Arroyo Abad, Leticia & Davies, Elwyn & van Zanden, Jan Luiten, 2012. "Between conquest and independence: Real wages and demographic change in Spanish America, 1530–1820," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 149-166.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N16 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • N36 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Latin America; Caribbean
    • O54 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Latin America; Caribbean

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