Alex Klein, Sheilagh Ogilvie, 14 January 2018

A famous hypothesis posits that serfdom was caused by factor endowments, specifically high land-labour ratios. Historical evidence seems to refute this idea, but with substantial identification problems. This column uses microdata for more than 11,000 Bohemian villages in the year 1757 to control for other potential influences on serfdom. The results support the factor endowments hypothesis, with higher land-labour ratios intensifying serfdom, suggesting that institutions are partially shaped by economic fundamentals.

Trevor Burnard, Laura Panza, Jeffrey Williamson, 06 December 2017

Jamaica was considered to be exceptionally rich in the 18th century. Modern historians have tended to perpetuate this idea. This column uses novel methods to shed new light on living standards and inequality in colonial Jamaica. While the country was one of the most expensive places on the planet at the time, this wealth rested in the hands a very small white, slave-owning elite. The rest of the populace, many in slavery, lived at the very edge of subsistence.

Brandon Dupont, Joshua Rosenbloom, 19 June 2016

The long-run persistence of social and economic status has received substantial attention from economists of late. But the impact of economic and political shocks on this persistence has yet to be thoroughly explored. This column examines the disruptions from the US Civil War on the Southern wealth distribution. Results suggest that an entrenched southern planter elite retained their economic status after the war. However, the turmoil of the decade opened mobility opportunities for Southerners of more modest means, especially compared with the North.

Graziella Bertocchi, Arcangelo Dimico, 14 November 2010

US commentators regularly lament the country’s racial and ethnic inequality. This column presents data from 1870 and 1940-2000 to argue that the divide has its roots in the slave trade and that its legacy persists today through the racial inequality in education.

Nathan Nunn, 08 December 2007

Slavery, according to historical accounts, played an important role in Africa’s underdevelopment. It fostered ethnic fractionalisation and undermined effective states. The largest numbers of slaves were taken from areas that were the most underdeveloped politically at the end of the 19th century and are the most ethnically fragmented today. Recent research suggests that without the slave trades, 72% of Africa’s income gap with the rest of the world would not exist today.