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Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Inequality: New Evidence



Serfdom is often viewed as a major institutional constraint on the economic development of Tsarist Russia, one that persisted well after emancipation occurred in 1861 through the ways that property rights were transferred to the peasantry. However, scholars have generally asserted this causal relationship with few facts in hand. This paper introduces a variety of newly collected data, covering European Russia at the district (uezd) level, to describe serfdom, emancipation, and the subsequent evolution of land holdings among the rural population into the 20th century. A series of simple empirical exercises describes several important ways that the institution of serfdom varied across European Russia; outlines how the emancipation reforms differentially affected the minority of privately owned serfs relative to the majority of other types of peasants; and connects these differences to long-run variation in land ownership, obligations, and inequality. The evidence explored in this paper constitutes the groundwork for considering the possible channels linking the demise of serfdom to Russia's slow pace of economic growth prior to the Bolshevik Revolution.

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  • Steven Nafziger, 2013. "Russian Serfdom, Emancipation, and Land Inequality: New Evidence," Department of Economics Working Papers 2013-14, Department of Economics, Williams College.
  • Handle: RePEc:wil:wileco:2013-14
    Note: This long descriptive paper is part of an even larger project - "Serfdom, Emancipation, and Economic Development in Tsarist Russia" - that is very much a work in progress. As such, some obvious extensions are left out. I apologize for any inconsistencies that remain.

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nafziger, Steven, 2011. "Did Ivan's vote matter? The political economy of local democracy in Tsarist Russia," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(03), pages 393-441, December.
    2. Leonard,Carol S., 2015. "Agrarian Reform in Russia," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9781107546233, March.
    3. Wallace E. Huffman & Mark McNulty, 1985. "Endogenous Local Public Extension Policy," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 67(4), pages 761-768.
    4. Olmstead,Alan L. & Rhode,Paul W., 2008. "Creating Abundance," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521857116, March.
    5. Swinnen, Johan F. M. & Gorter, Harry de & Rausser, Gordon C. & Banerjee, Anurag N., 2000. "The political economy of public research investment and commodity policies in agriculture: an empirical study," Agricultural Economics, Blackwell, vol. 22(2), pages 111-122, March.
    6. Pranab Bardhan & Dilip Mookherjee, 2006. "Decentralisation and Accountability in Infrastructure Delivery in Developing Countries," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 116(508), pages 101-127, January.
    7. Tracy Dennison & Steven Nafziger, 2011. "Micro-Perspectives on Living Standards in Nineteenth-Century Russia," Department of Economics Working Papers 2011-07, Department of Economics, Williams College.
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    Cited by:

    1. Andrei Markevich & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2017. "The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire," Working Papers w0237, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
    2. Johannes C. Buggle & Steven Nafziger, 2016. "Long-Run Consequences of Labor Coercion: Evidence from Russian Serfdom," Department of Economics Working Papers 2016-07, Department of Economics, Williams College.

    More about this item


    Russia; economic history; serfdom; inequality; land reform; institutions;

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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