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Living standards in the Mediterranean Basin: A long-run view

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The purpose of this session is to bring together scholars working on quantifying the long-term evolution in historical living standards in the Mediterranean Basin. Groundbreaking work by Allen (2001), Malanima (2013) and Özmucur and Pamuk (2002) has provided us with estimates of real wages going as far back as the 13th century. These data have given us detailed information about when Northern Europe departed from its Southern Europe counterparts, in terms of real wages, which in turn has sparked important debates about why Northern Europe took over as the leading economic region after the millennia-long Southern European dominance. Southern Europe in these debates is, however, mainly represented by a handful of cities (Florence, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, Naples, and Valencia). While these cities were unquestionable among the more important urban areas in the Mediterranean region, other territories (including also Northern Africa) have received much less attention. To gain a deeper understanding of long-term economic development in the Mediterranean region, this session intends to gather scholars working on historical living in any time period and in all areas of the Mediterranean Basin. In particular, the session seeks to get an overview of ongoing studies, as well as to discuss the possibility for future work, within this area of research.

Organizer(s)

  • Jacob Weisdorf University of Southern Denmark jacobw@sam.sdu.dk Denmark
  • Mauro Rota University of Rome La Sapienza mauro.rota@uniroma1.it Italy
  • Donatella Strangio University of Rome La Sapienza donatella.strangio@uniroma1.it Italy

Session members

  • Jose Garcia Gomez , Almeria University
  • Nuno Palma, Manchester University
  • Sevket Pamuk, Bogaziçi University
  • Michelangelo Vasta, Siena University
  • Alessandro Nuvolari, Pisa Sant'Anna
  • Giovanni Federico, Pisa University
  • Victor Lugue de Haro, Almeria University
  • Emanuele Felice, University Chieti-Pescara
  • Jan-Luiten van Zanden, Utrecht University
  • Mattia Fochesato, NYU Abu Dhabi
  • Herman de Jong, Groningen University
  • Nuno Palma, Manchester University

Discussant(s)

  • Joerg Baten Tubingen University joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de

Papers

Panel abstract

This session brings together scholars working on quantifying the long-term evolution in historical living standards in the Mediterranean Basin. Ground-breaking work by Allen, Malanima, Pamuk, etc. has provided us with estimates of real wages going as far back as the 13th century. These data have given us detailed information about when Northern Europe departed from its Southern Europe counterparts, in terms of real wages, which in turn has sparked important debates about why Northern Europe took over as the leading economic region after the millennia-long Southern European dominance. Southern Europe in these debates is, however, mainly represented by a handful of cities (Florence, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, Naples, and Valencia). While these cities were among the more important urban areas in the Mediterranean region, other territories have received less attention. This session presents state-of-the-art research about historical living standards across the Mediterranean Basin.

1st half

Beyond Optimism vs Pessimism- Living standards during the Industrial Revolution

Herman de Jong

Even though the positive outcomes of industrialization for human living standards are undisputed, the same does not apply to the years of the industrial revolution itself and the fast urbanization that went with it. Studies looking at individual key well-being dimensions such as income or life expectancy often show contradictory evidence. The lecture presents a new framework translating the different dimensions of living standards and wellbeing into a common concept of consumption equivalents. This new composite welfare indicator includes income, health, inequality and working time. Applying this methodology to the years of the British Industrial Revolution (1781-1851) suggests that individual measures of income typically underestimate the extent to which welfare increased during industrialization. Actually, increases in health, although moderate, might have contributed to an improvement in well-being at least as substantial as real wages.

Even though the positive outcomes of industrialization for human living standards are undisputed, the same does not apply to the years of the industrial revolution itself and the fast urbanization that went with it. Studies looking at individual key well-being dimensions such as income or life expectancy often show contradictory evidence. The lecture presents a new framework translating the different dimensions of living standards and wellbeing into a common concept of consumption equivalents. This new composite welfare indicator includes income, health, inequality and working time. Applying this methodology to the years of the British Industrial Revolution (1781-1851) suggests that individual measures of income typically underestimate the extent to which welfare increased during industrialization. Actually, increases in health, although moderate, might have contributed to an improvement in well-being at least as substantial as real wages.

Benchmarking the Middle Ages. XV century Tuscany in European Perspective

Emanuele Felice; Jan Luiten van Zanden

The article presents GDP estimates for XV century Tuscany, based on the 1427 Florentine Catasto. In per capita terms, Tuscany was only slightly above England and Holland. Furthermore, our analysis highlights a fundamental institutional difference, in comparison to England and Holland: Florence was characterized by high extractive rates in favor of the capital city, to the detriment of the subdued cities and the countryside; and by subsequent market blockades. This may explain why previous estimates probably overestimated GDP. It may also explain the exceptional artistic blossoming of XV century Florence, despite only a small lead in average GDP.

The article presents GDP estimates for XV century Tuscany, based on the 1427 Florentine Catasto. In per capita terms, Tuscany was only slightly above England and Holland. Furthermore, our analysis highlights a fundamental institutional difference, in comparison to England and Holland: Florence was characterized by high extractive rates in favor of the capital city, to the detriment of the subdued cities and the countryside; and by subsequent market blockades. This may explain why previous estimates probably overestimated GDP. It may also explain the exceptional artistic blossoming of XV century Florence, despite only a small lead in average GDP.

Inequality in Europe in a long term perspective (14th-19th century)- evidence from real wages

Giovanni Federico; Alessandro Nuvolari; Michelangelo Vasta

This paper explores long-run trends in inequality, as proxied by the share of unskilled labour on GDP, in Europe. We convert the available series of welfare ratios into 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars and we compute the share as the ratio to GDP adjusting for changes in the labour supply. Most countries experienced a Malthusian cycle after the Black Death, but trends differed markedly thereafter. The share remained pretty stable in France and the Netherlands, declined in Italy, and fluctuated widely in England, with a sizeable decline in the 18th century. The share remained, by and large, stable from the beginning of the 19th century to World War One. We show that movements in wages and GDP accounted for most trends, while the effect of changes in labour supply was modest in the long run and even during the industrious revolution.

This paper explores long-run trends in inequality, as proxied by the share of unskilled labour on GDP, in Europe. We convert the available series of welfare ratios into 1990 Geary-Khamis dollars and we compute the share as the ratio to GDP adjusting for changes in the labour supply. Most countries experienced a Malthusian cycle after the Black Death, but trends differed markedly thereafter. The share remained pretty stable in France and the Netherlands, declined in Italy, and fluctuated widely in England, with a sizeable decline in the 18th century. The share remained, by and large, stable from the beginning of the 19th century to World War One. We show that movements in wages and GDP accounted for most trends, while the effect of changes in labour supply was modest in the long run and even during the industrious revolution.

The Great Divergence in European Real Wages Revisited; Evidence from Annual Employment

Mauro Rota; Jacob Weisdorf

This paper presents newly-collected income data for annually-employed unskilled male workers in Northern Italy between 1500 and 1850. These data are compared to similar income data for unskilled male workers in England. The comparison shows that English workers cost between 20-30 per cent more than their Northern-Italy counterparts between 1500 and 1700. However, by 1800, English workers cost more than twice as much as their Italian counterparts. The timing of this great divergence in annual payments coincides with the introduction of labour-saving machines in England, e.g. the steam engine, thus supporting the high-wage economy argument for why the Industrial Revolution was English and not Italian.

This paper presents newly-collected income data for annually-employed unskilled male workers in Northern Italy between 1500 and 1850. These data are compared to similar income data for unskilled male workers in England. The comparison shows that English workers cost between 20-30 per cent more than their Northern-Italy counterparts between 1500 and 1700. However, by 1800, English workers cost more than twice as much as their Italian counterparts. The timing of this great divergence in annual payments coincides with the introduction of labour-saving machines in England, e.g. the steam engine, thus supporting the high-wage economy argument for why the Industrial Revolution was English and not Italian.

2nd half

Women's wages in the textile industry in Lyon and Rome in the “long” 19th century- a comparative approach

Manuela Martini; Donatella Strangio

In this work, an attempt is made to cast a comparative perspective on modern southern Europe, and to contribute to the recent debate on women’s remuneration. We present some preliminary results, both qualitative and quantitative, which highlight the experience of women engaged in extra domestic work over a time span covering the modern and contemporary ages, using a regional and comparative approach applied to two different urban industrial realities, Rome and Lyon. We process a set of hereto unpublished data retrieved from the archives of Rome, Lyon and Paris. Individual women’s stories and careers will also be discussed which will allow a better understanding of their remuneration status and help to define their roles within the family budget. The theme of living standards will also be addressed, together with the connected issue of women’s work and remuneration, a topic which is increasingly receiving the attention of European and international institutions.

In this work, an attempt is made to cast a comparative perspective on modern southern Europe, and to contribute to the recent debate on women’s remuneration. We present some preliminary results, both qualitative and quantitative, which highlight the experience of women engaged in extra domestic work over a time span covering the modern and contemporary ages, using a regional and comparative approach applied to two different urban industrial realities, Rome and Lyon. We process a set of hereto unpublished data retrieved from the archives of Rome, Lyon and Paris. Individual women’s stories and careers will also be discussed which will allow a better understanding of their remuneration status and help to define their roles within the family budget. The theme of living standards will also be addressed, together with the connected issue of women’s work and remuneration, a topic which is increasingly receiving the attention of European and international institutions.

Health inequality in Southern Spain at the early 19th century

Víctor Antonio Luque de Haro; Andrés Sánchez-Picón; Jose Joaquín García Gómez

The aim of this work is to study if there was a gradient in mortality by socioeconomic categories during a pre-capitalist period (1798-1826) in southern Spain. During the period studied, in the town of Vera there was an epidemic of yellow fever in which about a quarter of the population died. We can compare the relationship between social (or occupational) class and mortality in epidemic and non-epidemic years to see whether the mortality patterns were similar in contexts of epidemic and non-epidemic mortality. The results could shed some light on the debate about the health inequality around constant or convergence-divergence hypothesis. Individual microdata have been obtained by linking the census of 1797 and 1812 and the parish burials of the period 1797-1826. Occupations have been categorized using the different HISCLASS categories and HISCO codes. We analyze the differences using cox regression and traditional demographic indicators such as life expectancy.

The aim of this work is to study if there was a gradient in mortality by socioeconomic categories during a pre-capitalist period (1798-1826) in southern Spain. During the period studied, in the town of Vera there was an epidemic of yellow fever in which about a quarter of the population died. We can compare the relationship between social (or occupational) class and mortality in epidemic and non-epidemic years to see whether the mortality patterns were similar in contexts of epidemic and non-epidemic mortality. The results could shed some light on the debate about the health inequality around constant or convergence-divergence hypothesis. Individual microdata have been obtained by linking the census of 1797 and 1812 and the parish burials of the period 1797-1826. Occupations have been categorized using the different HISCLASS categories and HISCO codes. We analyze the differences using cox regression and traditional demographic indicators such as life expectancy.

Was the Late Medieval Middle East Malthusian? Land tenure, labor organization, and plagues in Egypt and Syria

Mattia Fochesato

Were the late medieval Middle Eastern economies Malthusian? How did living standards, prices and land rents react to the mid-14th demographic shocks? Did the different land tenure system, technological endowments and rural labor organizations influence the economic response of the Middle Eastern regions to the dramatic decline of population? The existing evidence on the subject shows a degree of uncertainty about how the Middle Eastern regions reacted to the Black Death, whether living standards and other economic variables diverged or not across different areas, and what role land tenure and labor organization in rural areas played in shaping their similar or different paths. Here, through a new quantitative analysis of the available data on economic and demographic indicators in Egypt and Syria, I attempt to reconcile the previous contrasting findings on the subject, and to highlight possible similar and different paths across regions.

Were the late medieval Middle Eastern economies Malthusian? How did living standards, prices and land rents react to the mid-14th demographic shocks? Did the different land tenure system, technological endowments and rural labor organizations influence the economic response of the Middle Eastern regions to the dramatic decline of population? The existing evidence on the subject shows a degree of uncertainty about how the Middle Eastern regions reacted to the Black Death, whether living standards and other economic variables diverged or not across different areas, and what role land tenure and labor organization in rural areas played in shaping their similar or different paths. Here, through a new quantitative analysis of the available data on economic and demographic indicators in Egypt and Syria, I attempt to reconcile the previous contrasting findings on the subject, and to highlight possible similar and different paths across regions.

Urban Wages around the Eastern Mediterranean, from 1 AD to 1914

Sevket Pamuk

Evidence on urban wages and prices around the Eastern Mediterranean begin much earlier than those available for the Western Mediterranean. This paper will bring together and review the existing evidence on the purchasing power of the wages of construction workers in the two largest urban centers around the Eastern Mediterrranean, Cairo and Constantinople-Istanbul from the Roman era until World War I. It will then compare them with the real wages in two urban centers in the Western Mediterranean, Florence and Valencia as well as those in Northwestern Europe, Amsterdam and London, for the period 1300 to 1914. The paper will emphasize the impact of demographic cycles, especially the plagues on real wages around the Eastern Mediterranean until the nineteenth century.

Evidence on urban wages and prices around the Eastern Mediterranean begin much earlier than those available for the Western Mediterranean. This paper will bring together and review the existing evidence on the purchasing power of the wages of construction workers in the two largest urban centers around the Eastern Mediterrranean, Cairo and Constantinople-Istanbul from the Roman era until World War I. It will then compare them with the real wages in two urban centers in the Western Mediterranean, Florence and Valencia as well as those in Northwestern Europe, Amsterdam and London, for the period 1300 to 1914. The paper will emphasize the impact of demographic cycles, especially the plagues on real wages around the Eastern Mediterranean until the nineteenth century.

From Convergence to Divergence - Portuguese Economic Growth, 1527-1850

Nuno Palma; Jaime Reis

We construct the first time-series for Portugal’s per capita GDP for 1527-1850, drawing on a new and extensive database. Starting in the early 1630s there was a highly persistent upward trend which accelerated after 1710 and peaked 40 years later. At that point, per capita income was high by European standards, though behind the most advanced Western European economies. But as the second half of the eighteenth century unfolded, a phase of economic decline was initiated. This continued into the nineteenth century, and over the long-run there was no per capita growth: by 1850 per capita incomes were not different from what they had been in the early 1530s. As a result, Portugal found itself as one of the most backward European economies precisely at the dawn of the era of modern economic growth.

We construct the first time-series for Portugal’s per capita GDP for 1527-1850, drawing on a new and extensive database. Starting in the early 1630s there was a highly persistent upward trend which accelerated after 1710 and peaked 40 years later. At that point, per capita income was high by European standards, though behind the most advanced Western European economies. But as the second half of the eighteenth century unfolded, a phase of economic decline was initiated. This continued into the nineteenth century, and over the long-run there was no per capita growth: by 1850 per capita incomes were not different from what they had been in the early 1530s. As a result, Portugal found itself as one of the most backward European economies precisely at the dawn of the era of modern economic growth.