Topics in Economic History and Growth

Research output: ThesisPh.D. thesis

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What impact does a change in land inequality have on female labor force participation, was Malthus right, and did market integration exist before the first era of globalization? This dissertation is a collection of essays that answers these questions in different historical contexts. The first three chapters to some extent all share the theme of economic growth, while the last chapter moves to trade, however using the same econometric approach as in two other chapters. The first chapter studies the effect of land inequality on female labor force participation in the context of 1950s Italy. Chapters 2 and 3 go further back in time, looking at Malthusian effects in Italy and Denmark respectively using a cointegration approach. The final chapter also employs the cointegration approach but in a different context, namely the study of market integration between Canada, the US and the UK in the late 18th and early 19th century.

Chapter 1 investigates the effect of a change in land inequality on female labor force participation. A vast literature shows the detrimental effect of an unequal distribution of land, especially the effects on economic growth, production, and human capital. However, what about other indirect effects of land inequality? This paper takes a different angle by looking at the effects on female labor force participation (FLFP), considered to be important for modern economic growth. In the 1950s in Italy a land reform was implemented, changing considerably the distribution of land, and putting an end to the large latifundia estates in the hands of absentee landowners (Bonanno, 1988). This event presents an ideal setting to investigate the effects of inequality on female labor force participation for two important reasons. Firstly, it presents a sudden change in the distribution and therefore, a difference-in-differences approach can be implemented to control for time and area fixed effects. Secondly, because of concerns about reverse causality where areas were included in the reform were also those most backward and hence with lower female labor force participation an instrument is needed for causal inference. Tracing the formation of the latifundia back to the Roman colonization, it is possible to introduce a new instrument for the areas affected by the 1950s land reform, namely using Roman colonies. I find that areas affected by the reform had higher FLFP rates afterwards. Three mechanisms through which the change in inequality might have affected female labor force participation are explored. The first mechanism is through an increase in the level of education, which qualified women for a larger range of jobs and consequently increased their participation on the job market. The second is that the reform increased the share of labor in the agricultural sector and hence, according to the feminization U hypothesis proposed by Sinha (1967), a larger share of women would be working. The third mechanism is through the crop mix. Different cops can be more or less female intensive and a change towards more female intensive crops would also increase their participation in the agricultural sector. I conclude that all three mechanisms are at work but that it is mainly due to an increase in the agricultural sector combined with the crop mix.

Chapter 2, co-authored with Paul Sharp and Claudia Riani, uses a model proposed by Møller and Sharp (2014) to investigate the presence of Malthusian mechanisms in pre-industrial societies. The Malthusian model, which implies a long-run interaction between demography and living standards, forms a cornerstone of our understanding of comparative economic development, as postulated by Unified Growth Theory (Galor, 2011). Its empirical validity has been supported by a number of studies, most of which examine England. The Italian case is of particular interest since the European marriage pattern as proposed by Hajnal (1965) was not predominant in Italy. Indeed, by employing the cointegrated VAR model proposed by Møller and Sharp (2014), we find evidence of a reversed “preventive check”. We also find evidence for diminishing returns to labor and thus conclude that Italy was a more “Malthusian” society than, for example, England at that time.

Chapter 3, co-authored with Peter Sandholt Jensen, Paul Sharp, and Cristina Victoria Radu, employs the same cointegration approach as chapter 2, but within the Danish context. We argue that the Danish context is especially suited for testing the Malthusian hypothesis since Denmark was characterized by extreme resource and environmental constraints until the final decades of the eighteenth century. Furthermore, since most studies cover England which in many ways differed from other European contexts at the time, adding evidence from other countries is important. The positive causal relationship between wages and population growth is quite uncontroversial for pre-industrial societies. However, the same is not true for the diminishing returns due to fixed supply of land for which results are more contrasting. Employing the cointegrated VAR, we find evidence for diminishing returns until ca. 1775. This relationship disappears in the late-eighteenth century, consistent with an increasing pace of technological progress and the emergence of what Unified Growth Theory has termed the “post-Malthusian” era.

Chapter 4, co-authored with Paul Sharp and Vincent Geloso, adds to previous work by Sharp and Weisdorf (2013) studying the potential for wheat market integration between the US and the UK before the ‘first era of globalization’ in the second half of the nineteenth century. We add Canada to the story by including Canadian price data for wheat, as well as contemporary debates. We find that she faced similar barriers to the US, and that membership of the British Empire was therefore not a great benefit. We also describe the limitations she faced accessing the US market, in particular after American independence. 
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Southern Denmark
  • Sharp, Paul Richard, Principal supervisor
  • Cinnirella, Francesco, Co-supervisor
  • Boberg-Fazlic, Nina, Co-supervisor
Date of defence19. Jan 2023
Publication statusPublished - 20. Jan 2023


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