DP16055 The Long-Run Impact of the Dissolution of the English Monasteries

Author(s): Leander Heldring, James A Robinson, Sebastian Vollmer
Publication Date: April 2021
Programme Areas: Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16055

We examine the long-run economic impact of the Dissolution of the English monasteries in 1535, during the Reformation. Since monastic lands were previously not marketed and relatively unencumbered by inefficient types of customary tenures linked to feudalism, the Dissolution provides variation in the longevity of feudal institutions, which is plausibly linked to labor and social mobility, the productivity of agriculture and ultimately the location of the Industrial Revolution. We show that parishes impacted by the Dissolution subsequently experienced a 'rise of the Gentry', had higher innovation and yields in agriculture, a greater share of the population working outside of agriculture, and ultimately higher levels of industrialization. Where Catholics lingered, there was less development. Our results are consistent with explanations of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions which emphasize the commercialization of society as a key pre-condition for taking advantage of technological change and new economic opportunities.