Living Standards in the Past : New Perspectives on Well-Being in Asia and Europe
Why did Europe experience industrialisation and modern economic growth before China, India or Japan? This is one of the most fundamental questions in Economic History and one that has provoked intense debate. The main concern of this book is to determine when the gap in living standards between the East and the West emerged. The established view, dating back to Adam Smith, is that the gap emerged long before the Industrial Revolution, perhaps thousands of years ago. While this view has been called into question - and many of the explanations for it greatly undermined - the issue demands much more empirical research than has yet been undertaken. How did the standard of living in Europe and Asia compare in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? The present book proposes an answer by considering evidence of three sorts. The first is economic, focusing on income, food production, wages, and prices. The second is demographic, comparing heights, life expectancy and other demographic indicators. The third combines the economic and demographic by investigating the demographic vulnerability to short-term economic stress.
The contributions show the highly complex and diverse pattern of the standard of living in the pre-industrial period. The general picture emerging is not one of a great divergence between East and West, but instead one of considerable similarities. These similarities not only pertain to economic aspects of standard of living but also to demography and the sensitivity to economic fluctuations. In addition to these similarities, there were also pronounced regional differences within the East and within the West - regional differences that in many cases were larger than the average differences between Europe and Asia. This clearly highlights the importance of analysing several dimensions of the standard of living, as well as the danger of neglecting regional, social, and household specific differences when assessing the level of well-being in the past.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
June 01, 2005
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