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The Long-Run Impact of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries

Leander Heldring, James A. Robinson, Sebastian Vollmer

NBER Working Paper No. 21450
Issued in August 2015, Revised in June 2020
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

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 had a greater share of the population working outside of agriculture, experienced higher innovation and yields in agriculture, a 'rise of the Gentry', and eventually higher levels of industrialization. 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.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21450

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