DP16847 Before the Dawn: English Medieval Living Standards and Economic Growth 1200-1800

Author(s): Gregory Clark, Maximilian P McComb
Publication Date: December 2021
Date Revised: January 2022
Keyword(s): Economic Growth, living standards, work days
JEL(s): N13, N33
Programme Areas: Economic History, Macroeconomics and Growth
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16847

If pre-industrial England was a Malthusian society, we should observe trendless living standards before 1800. Recent studies have claimed major gains in living standards 1270-1800 in northwest Europe, including England, implying the Malthusian era there had ended before 1350. Here we refute the claims that medieval English living standards were significantly lower than in 1800 using a variety of new metrics: the high value of food consumed per day when workers were fed at work, the high animal product share of the medieval diet, human heights, housing quality, and factor shares in agriculture. These measures all show the continued viability of the Malthusian interpretation: the medieval world was often richer than England of 1800.