The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire

101 Pages Posted: 27 Oct 2014 Last revised: 29 Jan 2017

Andrei Markevich

New Economic School

Ekaterina Zhuravskaya

Paris School of Economics

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Date Written: January 27, 2017


We document large increases in agricultural productivity, peasants’ living standards, and industrial development in Imperial Russia as a result of the abolition of serfdom in 1861. A counterfactual exercise suggests that if serfs were freed in 1820, by 1913 Russia would have been about 50% richer compared to what it actually was. We construct a novel province-level panel dataset of development outcomes and conduct a difference-in-differences analysis of the effects of the abolition of serfdom, relying on cross-sectional variation in the shares of serfs and the timing of the different stages of reform, controlling for unobserved variation across provinces and over time and province-specific trends. We disentangle the two stages of the abolition of serfdom: the emancipation of serfs and land reform, and find that, in contrast to a large positive effect of emancipation, land reform negatively affected agricultural productivity. We provide evidence that better incentives resulting from the cessation of the ratchet effect in the landlord-peasant relationship is a likely mechanism behind the positive effect of emancipation, and the increase in the power of the re-partition peasant commune is a mechanism behind the negative effect of the land reform.

Keywords: serfdom, emancipation, economic development, Russia

JEL Classification: N13, N53, O1

Suggested Citation

Markevich, Andrei and Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina, The Economic Effects of the Abolition of Serfdom: Evidence from the Russian Empire (January 27, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Andrei Markevich (Contact Author)

New Economic School ( email )

100 Novaya Street
Moscow, 143025
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Ekaterina V. Zhuravskaya

Paris School of Economics ( email )

48 Boulevard Jourdan
Paris, 75014 75014

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