Research program : Quantitative Economic History

I am very much interested in historical topics in general, and in particular in applying new methods to old stories. These methods can be either econometrics (as for the paper on Punishment in the Middle Ages) or quantitative theory, to assess whether historical events can be explained within the context of general equilibrium theory with maximizing agents. The idea is not to push economics as an all-encompassing science but rather to propose approaches complementing those of the historians, so that hopefully further progress can be made from this confrontation.

The Forerunners of fertility decline

In this part of the project, I study the forerunners in fertility decline, i.e. the social groups and/or regions which are suspected of having reduced their fertility first, sometimes well in advance of the whole population. Looking at the forerunners allows to assess more precisely whether a quantity-quality fertility model can account both for the overall decline in fertility as well as the changes in differential fertility during the demographic transition. Above all, it will help to identify factors behind and/or conditions needed for the fertility decline, in a period where there was still little change in income and mortality.

While working with these pre-industrial data, I realized that much can be learned from focusing on childlessness. Childlessness is sometimes involutary, but sometimes as an extreme case of fertility control. There is indication that some of the childlessness in pre-industrial period was the result of choices, stressing thereby the importance of the economic approach to fertility


Modelling the Link between Longevity and Growth in the Past

All my research concerning the transition from a world of low economic growth with high mortality and high fertility to one with low mortality and fertility but sustained growth is on the page Longevity & Growth Takeoffs.

The Longevity of Famous People

Famous people are those with a high level of human capital. The community of European famous people such as scientists, artists, and entrepreneurs is seen by Mokyr in his recent book on the Enlightenment as being at the root of the Industrial Revolution.

We build a new dataset of 300,000 famous people born between Hammurabi's epoch and 1879, Einstein's birth year. It includes the vital dates, occupations, and locations of celebrities from the Index Bio-biblio\-graphicus Notorum Hominum (IBN), a very comprehensive biographical tool.

The key contribution is to date the beginning of the steadily improvements in longevity to the cohort born in 1640-9, clearly preceding the Industrial Revolution. The picture below shows the gain (in years) as a function of the cohorts' birth. Moreover, we find that this timing of longevity improvements concerns most countries in Europe, as well as all types of skilled occupations.

Cohort dummies for famous people


The Longevity of Famous People from Hammurabi to Einstein, Journal of Economic Growth, 20, 263–303, 2015 [with O. Licandro]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | appendix appendix | slides slides | data data | blog blog | blog blog | photo photo | bibtex citation | homepage Licandro

Easter Island Collapse: a Tale of Population Race

The Easter Island tragedy has become an allegory for ecological catastrophe and a warning for the future.

In this paper,we propose an alternative story of its collapse involving non-cooperative bargaining between clans to share the crop. Each clan's bargaining power depends on its threat level when fighting a war. The biggest group has the highest probability of winning. In the quest for greater bargaining power, each clan's optimal size depends on that of the other clan, and a population race follows. The paper also makes a significant methodological contribution: it is the first fertility model to include strategic complementarities between group fertility decisions.

Easter Island


Easter Island Collapse: a Tale of Population Race, Journal of Economic Growth, 13, 27-55, 2008 [with D. Dottori].

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | slides slides | photo photo | bibtex citation | homepage Dottori

Demographic Change and Economic Growth in Sweden

In the paper Demographic Change and Economic Growth in Sweden: 1750-2050, we address two issues:

  • To what extent can models estimated on modern data be used to account for growth patterns in the past?
  • Can information on historical patterns help to improve long term forecasting of economic growth ?
Thomas Lindh and Bo Malmberg


Demographic Change and Economic Growth in Sweden: 1750-2050, Journal of Macroeconomics, 31, 132-148, 2009 [with T. Lindh and B. Malmberg].

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Lindh | homepage Malmberg

Medical Effectiveness in England, 1500-1900

A theory providing an original view on how medical progresses have changed inequality, and have improved health and life expectancy

We give a rationale for individual health expenditures even when medicine is not effective in postponing death, as it was the case prior to 1700. We then explain the rise of effective medicine by a learning process function of expenditure on health.

Life expectancy of Aristocrats and Commons


A Theory of Medical Effectiveness, Differential Mortality, Income Inequality and Growth for Pre-Industrial England, Mathematical Population Studies, 16, 1-34, 2009 [with A. Sommacal].

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Sommacal

The rise in schooling in England and the availability of schools, 1500-1860

Investment in education depends on the availability of schools. In a model mixing growth and geography, we show that higher population density enables the set-up costs of additional schools to be covered, opening the possibility to reach higher educational levels.

The prediction of the model are consistent with the available evidence for England, where it is shown that schools were established at a high rate over the period 1540-1620.

This model provides a mechanism through which higher population density may trigger the transition from stagnation to growth.

Literacy and schools in England


Early literacy achievements, population density and the transition to modern growth, Journal of the European Economic Association, 5, 183-226, 2007 [with R. Boucekkine and D. Peeters].

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | slides slides | bibtex citation | homepage Boucekkine | homepage Peeters

Disentangling the Demographic Determinants of the English Take-off: 1530-1860, Population and Development Review Supplement, Population Aging, Human Capital Accumulation, and Productivity Growth, Alexia Prskawetz, David E. Bloom, and Wolfgang Lutz (eds.), 126-148, 2008 [with R. Boucekkine and D. Peeters].

pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Boucekkine | homepage Peeters

To Fine or to Punish in the Late Middle Ages: 1424-1536

Looking at the budget of the Court of Nivelles over the late Middle Ages, we identify by means of econometric methods a structural change witnessing the transition from a medieval fine-base system into a modern system based on punishment.

To fine or to punish in Nivelles


To Fine or To Punish in the Late Middle Ages: a Time Series Analysis of Justice Administration in Nivelles: 1424 - 1536, Applied Economics 28, 1213-1224, 1996. [with X. Rousseaux and J.P. Urbain]

teaser teaser | teaser abstract | pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Rousseaux | homepage Urbain