The Long-Run Impact of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries
We examine the long-run economic impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535, during the Reformation. Since monastic lands were previously not marketed and relatively unencumbered by inefficient types of customary tenures linked to feudalism, the Dissolution provides variation in the longevity of feudal institutions, which is plausibly linked to labor and social mobility, the productivity of agriculture and ultimately the location of the Industrial Revolution. We show that parishes impacted by the Dissolution subsequently experienced a ‘rise of the Gentry’, had higher innovation and yields in agriculture, a greater share of the population working outside of agriculture, and ultimately higher levels of industrialization. Where Catholics lingered, there was less development. Our results are consistent with explanations of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions which emphasize the commercialization of society as a key pre-condition for taking advantage of technological change and new economic opportunities.
We are grateful to Robert Barro, Pol Antrás and three anonymous referees for their many comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Daron Acemoglu, Robert Allen, Josh Angrist, Rui Esteves, Joe Ferrie, Jeremiah Dittmar, Regina Grafe, Felicity Heal, Clive Holmes, Joel Mokyr, Kevin O'Rourke, Orlando Patterson, Daniel Smail, Beth Truesdale, Noam Yuchtman and seminar participants at Harvard, Northwestern, Brown, Oxford, Göttingen, Münster, Mannheim, Heidelberg, ETH Zurich, Delhi School of Economics, Hertie School of Governance, the 2014 EEA meetings, the 2015 CEPR-NYU Economic History Conference and the NBER Development of the American Economy meeting for helpful comments, Bruce Campbell, James Dowey, Samuel Gibbs, Rosalind Morris, and Max Satchell for kindly sharing their data and Giovanni Zambotti for GIS assistance. We would like to thank Johannes Bettin, Kathrin Ellieroth, Vivan Coelho, Narrelle Gilchrist, Wiebke Gumboldt, Jakob Hauth, Thiviya Kumaran, Anna Lane, Tram Nguyen, Amol Pai, Stefanie Pechar, Timo Stibbe and Juditha Wojcik for valuable research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Leander Heldring & James A Robinson & Sebastian Vollmer, 2021. "The Long-Run Impact of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol 136(4), pages 2093-2145.