Discussion Paper Details

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Title: Coal and the European Industrial Revolution

Author(s): Alan Fernihough and Kevin Hjortshøj O'Rourke

Publication Date: February 2014

Keyword(s): Coal, Geography, Historical Population and Industrial Revolution

Programme Area(s): Economic History

Abstract: We examine the importance of geographical proximity to coal as a factor underpinning comparative European economic development during the Industrial Revolution. Our analysis exploits geographical variation in city and coalfield locations, alongside temporal variation in the availability of coal-powered technologies, to quantify the effect of coal availability on historic city population sizes. Since we suspect that our coal measure could be endogenous, we use a geologically derived measure as an instrumental variable: proximity to rock strata from the Carboniferous era. Consistent with traditional historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution, we find that coal had a strong influence on city population size from 1800 onward. Counterfactual estimates of city population sizes indicate that our estimated coal effect explains at least 60% of the growth in European city populations from 1750 to 1900. This result is robust to a number of alternative modelling assumptions regarding missing historical population data, spatially lagged effects, and the exclusion of the United Kingdom from the estimation sample.

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Bibliographic Reference

Fernihough, A and O'Rourke, K. 2014. 'Coal and the European Industrial Revolution'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.