Bones, Bacteria and Break Points: The Heterogeneous Spatial Effects of the Black Death and Long-Run Growth

48 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2016 Last revised: 31 Jul 2016

See all articles by Remi Jedwab

Remi Jedwab

George Washington University - Department of Economics

Noel D. Johnson

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Mark Koyama

George Mason University - Department of Economics; George Mason University - Mercatus Center

Date Written: June 15, 2016

Abstract

The Black Death killed about 40% of Europe’s population between 1347-1352. Historical studies suggest that this mortality shock played a major role in shifting Europe onto a path to sustained economic growth. Using a novel dataset that provides information on spatial variation in plague mortality at the city level, as well as a range of controls and various identification strategies based on the spread of the epidemic, we explore the short-run and long-run impact of the Black Death on city growth. We find evidence for aggregate convergence. On average, cities recovered their pre-plague population within two centuries. However, there was considerable heterogeneity in the response to the shock, hence local divergence. The Black Death led to an urban reset: cities with better geographical and non-geographical endowments did relatively well, while other cities collapsed. In particular, our results emphasize the importance of trading networks in explaining urban recovery. Furthermore, the Black Death led to the creation of new cities in areas that were relatively less urbanized before it hit. Our analysis thus suggests that the Black Death may have permanently affected the spatial distribution and aggregate level of economic activity, potentially contributing to long-run growth in Europe.

Keywords: Urban Reset; Path Dependence; Multiple Equilibria; Urbanization, Cities, Black Death, Epidemics, Mortality, Little Divergence, Long-Run Growth

JEL Classification: R11, R12, O11, O47, J11, N00, N13

Suggested Citation

Jedwab, Remi and Johnson, Noel D. and Koyama, Mark, Bones, Bacteria and Break Points: The Heterogeneous Spatial Effects of the Black Death and Long-Run Growth (June 15, 2016). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 16-30. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2800002 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2800002

Remi Jedwab

George Washington University - Department of Economics ( email )

Washington, D.C., DC
United States

Noel D. Johnson

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

George Mason University - Mercatus Center

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

Mark Koyama (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

4400 University Drive
Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://mason.gmu.edu/~mkoyama2/About.html

George Mason University - Mercatus Center ( email )

3434 Washington Blvd., 4th Floor
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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