The Economic Impact of the Black Death

June 2020

Remi Jedwab (George Washington University), Noel D. Johnson (George Mason University), Mark Koyama (George Mason University)

IIEP working paper 2020-14

Abstract: *This paper is part of a Symposium organized by Dr. Remi Jedwab of the George Washington University that will appear in the Journal of Economic Literature.* The Black Death was the largest demographic shock in European history. We review the evidence for the origins, spread, and mortality of the disease. We document that it was a plausibly exogenous shock to the European economy and trace out its aggregate and local impacts in both the short-run and the long-run. The initial effect of the plague was highly disruptive. Wages and per capita income rose. But, in the long-run, this rise was only sustained in some parts of Europe. The other indirect long-run effects of the Black Death are associated with the growth of Europe relative to the rest of the world, especially Asia and the Middle East (the Great Divergence), a shift in the economic geography of Europe towards the Northwest (the Little Divergence), the demise of serfdom in Western Europe, a decline in the authority of religious institutions, and the emergence of stronger states. Finally, avenues for future research are laid out.

 

JEL Codes: N00, N13, I15, I14, J11, O10, O43

Key Words: Pandemics; Black Death; Institutions; Cities; Urbanization; Malthusian Theory; Demography; Long-Run Growth; Middle Ages; Europe; Asia;

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