DP15132 The Economic Impact of the Black Death

Author(s): Remi Jedwab, Noel Johnson, Mark Koyama
Publication Date: August 2020
Date Revised: August 2020
Keyword(s): Black Death, Cities, Demography, institutions, Long-run Growth, Malthusian Theory, Pandemics, Urbanization
JEL(s): I14, I15, J11, N00, N13, O0, O43
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15132

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