Coal and the European Industrial Revolution

Alan Fernihough, Kevin Hjortshøj O'Rourke

NBER Working Paper No. 19802
Issued in January 2014
NBER Program(s):   DAE   EFG

We examine the importance of geographical proximity to coal as a factor underpinning comparative European economic development during the Industrial Revolution. Our analysis exploits geographical variation in city and coalfield locations, alongside temporal variation in the availability of coal-powered technologies, to quantify the effect of coal availability on historical city population sizes. Since we suspect that our coal measure could be endogenous, we use a geologically derived measure as an instrumental variable: proximity to rock strata from the Carboniferous era. Consistent with traditional historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution, we find that coal had a strong influence on city population size from 1800 onward. Counterfactual estimates of city population sizes indicate that our estimated coal effect explains around 60% of the growth in European city populations from 1750 to 1900. This result is robust to a number of alternative modelling assumptions.

You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Information about Free Papers

You should expect a free download if you are a subscriber, a corporate associate of the NBER, a journalist, an employee of the U.S. federal government with a ".GOV" domain name, or a resident of nearly any developing country or transition economy.

If you usually get free papers at work/university but do not at home, you can either connect to your work VPN or proxy (if any) or elect to have a link to the paper emailed to your work email address below. The email address must be connected to a subscribing college, university, or other subscribing institution. Gmail and other free email addresses will not have access.


This paper was revised on September 12, 2014

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w19802

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Clark, O'Rourke, and Taylor w19926 The Growing Dependence of Britain on Trade during the Industrial Revolution
Reinhart and Rogoff w19823 Recovery from Financial Crises: Evidence from 100 Episodes
Acemoglu, García-Jimeno, and Robinson w19813 State Capacity and Economic Development: A Network Approach
Lindert and Williamson w19861 American Colonial Incomes, 1650-1774
Nunn and Qian w15157 The Potato's Contribution to Population and Urbanization: Evidence from an Historical Experiment
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us