Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe

Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2004

23 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2004

See all articles by Emily F. Oster

Emily F. Oster

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Abstract

In the period between 1300 and 1800 as many as one million people were executed in Europe for the crime of witchcraft. Although a variety of theories about the witch-hunts have been put forward over time, little has been said about the possibility that the witch-hunts were motivated by a desire for vengeance in a time of misfortune. This paper connects the witch-hunts in Europe with deteriorating weather and slow economic growth during this period. The most intense period of witch-hunting coincided with a period of below-average worldwide temperatures known as the little ice age. I find that there is a statistically significant relationship between climate and number of trials: in times of worse climate there were more trials. This finding is robust to different measures of climate. In addition, I find that in periods of slower economic growth there were more witchcraft trials, even controlling for weather patterns. I argue that the two results together suggest that vengeance may have played an important role in witchcraft persecutions.

Keywords: Witchcraft, vengeance, growth

JEL Classification: I30, J16, N43, N53

Suggested Citation

Oster, Emily F., Witchcraft, Weather and Economic Growth in Renaissance Europe. Journal of Economic Perspectives, Winter 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=522403

Emily F. Oster (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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