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Accounting for the ‘Little Divergence’ What drove economic growth in preindustrial Europe, 1300-1800?

  • Alexandra M. de Pleijt
  • Jan Luiten van Zanden

The Little Divergence is the process of differential economic growth within Europe in the period between 1300 and 1800, during which the North Sea Area developed into the most prosperous and dynamic part of the Continent. We test various hypotheses about the causes of the Little Divergence, using new data and focusing on trends in GDP per capita. The results are that institutional changes (in particular the rise of active Parliaments), human capital formation and structural change are the primary drivers of the growth that occurred, which contrast sharply with previous findings by Robert Allen (who however focused on real wages as dependent variable). We also test for the role of religion (the spread of Protestantism): this has affected human capital formation, but does not in itself have an impact on growth. Moreover, we find an insignificant effect of the land-labour ratio, which shows the limitations of the Malthusian model for understanding the Little Divergence.

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Paper provided by Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History in its series Working Papers with number 0046.

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Length: 25 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ucg:wpaper:0046
Contact details of provider: Postal: University of Utrecht, Drift 10, The Netherlands
Web page: http://www.cgeh.nl

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  1. Tine De Moor & Jan Luiten Van Zanden, 2010. "Girl power: the European marriage pattern and labour markets in the North Sea region in the late medieval and early modern period -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 63(1), pages 1-33, 02.
  2. Sascha O. Becker & Ludger Woessmann, 2009. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economic History," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 124(2), pages 531-596, May.
  3. De Long, J Bradford & Shleifer, Andrei, 1993. "Princes and Merchants: European City Growth before the Industrial Revolution," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(2), pages 671-702, October.
  4. Stephen Broadberry & Bruce Campbell & Alexander Klein & Mark Overton & Bas van Leeuwen, 2012. "British Economic Growth, 1270-1870: an output-based approach," Studies in Economics 1203, School of Economics, University of Kent.
  5. Buringh, Eltjo & Van Zanden, Jan Luiten, 2009. "Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(02), pages 409-445, June.
  6. BOUCEKKINE, Raouf & DE LA CROIX, David & PEETERS, Dominique, 2007. "Disentangling the demographic determinants of the English take-off: 1530-1860," CORE Discussion Papers 2007033, Université catholique de Louvain, Center for Operations Research and Econometrics (CORE).
  7. Raouf, BOUCEKKINE & David, DE LA CROIX & Dominique, PEETERS, 2005. "Early Literacy Achievements, Population Density and the Transition to Modern Growth," Discussion Papers (ECON - Département des Sciences Economiques) 2005023, Université catholique de Louvain, Département des Sciences Economiques.
  8. North, Douglass C. & Weingast, Barry R., 1989. "Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 49(04), pages 803-832, December.
  9. van Zanden, Jan Luiten & van Leeuwen, Bas, 2012. "Persistent but not consistent: The growth of national income in Holland 1347–1807," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 119-130.
  10. Joerg Baten & Jan Zanden, 2008. "Book production and the onset of modern economic growth," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 13(3), pages 217-235, September.
  11. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, December.
  12. Schultz, Theodore W, 1975. "The Value of the Ability to Deal with Disequilibria," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 13(3), pages 827-46, September.
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