Doctoral Dissertation Research in Economics: Was the Black Death a Watershed? Measuring European Regional Inequality in the Very Long Run
Project Outcomes Statement
This study analyzes geographic patterns of economic activity in late medieval Europe. Scholars have argued that the period following the Black Death (a bubonic plague pandemic, 1347-1350) was crucial in shaping the relative prosperity of states in the period before the Industrial Revolution. Besides being of major historical importance in itself, the existing theories link the question of why certain states flourished while others stagnated to changes in the underlying social structure (such as marriage patterns, urbanization) and political institutions. These changes, as well as the fact that similar adverse demographic shocks have accompanied humanity throughout history, make the lessons learned from Europe’s experience of the Black Death valuable beyond that particular context.
Direct empirical investigations of the impact of the Black Death on European regional inequality have been limited, however. Data availability poses a challenge for empirical analysis beyond aggregate-level comparisons. To improve geographic coverage, granularity, and consistency of the existing indicators of economic activity in late medieval Europe, this study relies on a unique source – tax revenues of the Catholic Church. During the period of interest, the Church was a major economic actor in all Catholic states in terms of the share of wealth that it had under control. Therefore, changes in the structure of the Church’s tax revenues from any given location could be reflective of broader changes in the local economy. Originally compiled by medieval clerks in Latin, preserved in the Vatican Secret Archives, and made available in a printed form during the modern period, these tax ledgers follow a common standard, which simplifies analysis. Crucially, the data covers the period immediately before and after the onset of the Black Death for most of medieval Catholic Europe at the subnational level, making it possible to apply econometric tools for testing the existing theories of economic development. This data will benefit scholars in the social sciences more broadly by documenting the economic conditions of various societies at an important point in European history.
Supported by the National Science Foundation grant #1757231
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