Why England? Demographic Factors, Structural Change and Physical Capital Accumulation During the Industrial Revolution

43 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006 Last revised: 12 Oct 2012

See all articles by Nico Voigtländer

Nico Voigtländer

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: December 1, 2006

Abstract

Why did England industrialize first? And why was Europe ahead of the rest of the world? Unified growth theory in the tradition of Galor-Weil (2000) and Galor-Moav (2002) captures the key features of the transition from stagnation to growth over time. Yet we know remarkably little about why industrialization occurred so much earlier in some parts of the world than in others. To answer this question, we present a probabilistic two-sector model where the initial escape from Malthusian constraints depends on the demographic regime, capital deepening and the use of more differentiated capital equipment. Weather-induced shocks to agricultural productivity cause changes in prices and quantities, and affect wages. In a standard model with capital externalities, these fluctuations interact with the demographic regime and affect the speed of growth. Our model is calibrated to match the main characteristics of the English economy in 1700 and the observed transition until 1850. We capture one of the key features of the British Industrial Revolution emphasized by economic historians -- slow growth of output and productivity. Fertility limitation is responsible for higher per capita incomes, and these in turn increase industrialization probabilities. The paper also explores the availability of nutrition for poorer segments of society. We examine the influence of redistributive institutions such as the Old Poor Law, and find they were not decisive in fostering industrialization. Simulations using parameter values for other countries show that Britain's early escape was only partly due to chance. France could have moved out of agriculture and into manufacturing faster than Britain, but the probability was less than 30 percent. Contrary to recent claims in the literature, 18th century China had only a minimal chance to escape from Malthusian constraints.

Keywords: Industrial Revolution, Unified Growth Theory, Endogenous Growth, Transition, Calibration

JEL Classification: E27, N13, N33, O14, O41

Suggested Citation

Voigtländer, Nico and Voth, Hans-Joachim, Why England? Demographic Factors, Structural Change and Physical Capital Accumulation During the Industrial Revolution (December 1, 2006). Journal of Economical Growth, Vol. 11, No. 4, 2006. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=922623 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.922623

Nico Voigtländer (Contact Author)

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States
+1-310-794 6382 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/nico.v/

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) ( email )

London
United Kingdom

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society ( email )

Raemistrasse 71
Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

London
United Kingdom

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