Thursday, 4 February 2021

Intergenerational mobility: what about the daughters?

by Vincent Delabastita*^ and Erik Buyst*

*Department of Economics, KU Leuven
^Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)

blog post based on the article, "Intergenerational mobility of sons and daughters: evidence from nineteenth-century West Flanders", now available on EHER early view here

Research of the intergenerational transmission of socio-economic attainment has long had a restrictive focus on the relationship between fathers and sons. Recently, a growing strand of literature has taken up the challenge to overcome the omission of women. In historical research, however, this is challenging because (1) cultural tradition often prescribes that women change their name upon marriage, making intergenerational tracking of female life courses much more challenging (2) the socio-economic attainment of women on historical labor markets is often poorly documented. The first challenge can be solved by either constructing indirect links based on naming practices (Olivetti & Paserman, 2015; Olivetti, Paserman, & Salisbury, 2018), or by looking at areas for which it is possible to construct direct intergenerational links. This research project adds to a range of recent papers that adopts the latter approach, by studying the case of 19th-century West Flanders (Craig, Eriksson, & Niemesh, 2019; Dribe, Eriksson, & Scalone, 2019).

The common approach to overcoming the second challenge with respect to the definition of women’s socio-economic attainment is to take the husband’s or father’s occupational status as a proxy. We argue that this stance leads to a problematic neglect of the female experience in labor markets in the past, as working women were definitely ubiquitous in European history (for example, see Humphries & Sarasúa, 2012). An examination of women’s social mobility solely based on their marital mobility or the attainment of her father/husband shows only part of the picture. Therefore, our paper takes a different approach by examining parental influence on women’s own occupational decisions on the labor market.

19th-century West Flanders presents itself as a suitable case study, given that its economic structure was characterized by its export-oriented rural linen industry and typically relied on women in the role of flax spinners. This makes that marriage certificates from the West-Flemish civil register system are an excellent opportunity to overcome both challenges with respect to the study of female intergenerational mobility: not only were brides identified by their maiden names, their occupational activity at marriage was also commonly recorded (see Figure 1). Furthermore, the economic history of West Flanders presents us with interesting variation. In the middle of the 19th century, its once-flourishing rural linen industry collapsed under the pressure of mechanized competition in neighboring regions. This dramatic demise hit women disproportionally hard, as flax spinning was a common source of income among West-Flemish women. Towards the end of the 19th century, this period of economic turmoil was followed by a gradual process of industrialization.

Figure 1: Registration of an economic activity of the bride; 1830-1900

Results and discussion

Building on the intra- and intergenerational linkage of more than a million digitized civil birth and marriage certificates, we were able to construct a comprehensive sample of 40,703 parent-child pairs. We find evidence of a gender gap in occupational mobility, with sons being more attached to their socio-economic roots. Throughout the period under observation, however, there were only modest mobility gains for daughters compared to sons, leading to a gender convergence in mobility. Moreover, the risk of ending up in an unskilled occupation became progressively bigger for West-Flemish women as the rural industry was replaced by mechanized industries in neighboring areas. Overall, this presents a gloomy picture for 19th-century daughters, as they missed out on the possibilities offered by industrialization in terms of intergenerational mobility and socio-economic status.

In the background of the demise and resurgence of West Flanders’ industry, we point to two causal factors underlying these differential trends in socio-economic attainment. First, hand spinning – a typically female activity - was mechanized much more rapidly, leading to a starker decrease in the payoff of investing in daughters’ human capital and to higher levels of female mobility. In contrast, traditional linen weaving remained competitive against mechanized production for much longer, so the deindustrialization process went more smoothly for men. A second explanation for the overall lower mobility in the post-crisis period as well as the observed gender differential in mobility can be found in the gradual emergence of migration. We find that selection effects due to geographic mobility played a more important role in the determination of male intergenerational mobility, suggesting that migration was a more effective way to achieve social mobility for male workers.

From an international perspective, our results largely align with recent developments in the literature. Our estimates for father-son mobility are consistent with the idea that intergenerational mobility was significantly higher across the Atlantic Ocean (see Pérez 2019). Importantly, we present first evidence that a similar case can be made for daughters. Expanding our empirical framework to marital mobility, in which we take the traditional approach of imputing female social status by their husband’s attainment, a direct comparison with recent work on the US reveals that mobility in the US was markedly larger not only for sons, but also daughters (Craig, Eriksson, & Niemesh, 2019). Strikingly, a similar pattern is also found for American women, as daughters enjoyed less benefits in terms of mobility growth throughout the 19th century.

Read more about Vincent Delabastita's research at his website here; you can follow him on twitter here

Read more about Erik Buyst's research at his website here


Craig, J., Eriksson, K., & Niemesh, G. T. (2019). Marriage and the intergenerational mobility of women: Evidence from marriage certificates 1850-1910 (Tech. Rep.). Department of Economics, UC Davis. (Mimeo)

Dribe, M., Eriksson, B., & Scalone, F. (2019). Migration, marriage, and social mobility: Women in Sweden 1880-1900. Explorations in Economic History, 71, 93 - 111.

Humphries, J., & Sarasúa, C. (2012). Off the record: Reconstructing women’s labor force participation in the European past. Feminist Economics, 18(4), 39–67.

Olivetti, C., & Paserman, M. D. (2015). In the name of the son (and the daughter): Intergenerational mobility in the United States, 1850–1940. American Economic Review, 105(8), 2695–2724.

Olivetti, C., Paserman, M. D., & Salisbury, L. (2018). Three-generation mobility in the United States, 1850–1940: The role of maternal and paternal grandparents. Explorations in Economic History, 70, 73–90.

Pérez, S. (2019). Intergenerational occupational mobility across three continents. The Journal of Economic History, 79(2), 383416.

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Comparing Income and Wealth Inequality in Pre-Industrial Economies: the case of Castile (Spain), c. 1750


by Esteban Nicolini and Fernando Ramos-Palencia (@framospalencia)

blog post based on the article, "Comparing income and wealth inequality in pre-industrial economies: the case of Castile (Spain) in the eighteenth century", available on EHER early view here

Our knowledge of the evolution of economic inequality within countries in pre-industrial Europe has expanded considerably in the last years. The two most important dimensions of economic inequality in the literature are related with income (a flow) and wealth (a set of assets); although many researchers implicitly assume that these two variables are very good substitutes of each other, there is no study on the relationship between these two variables for pre-industrial Europe. 

In general, incomes are composed by the returns to physical assets (capital or land), to financial assets, to human capital and to raw labor; on the other hand, for a given person or household, the stream of incomes influence savings that accumulate in future wealth. The relative importance of the different kinds of assets in total wealth and in the generation of income, changed substantially with economic growth. In modern societies, the agricultural sector plays a relatively minor role in aggregate production, income inequality is only weakly linked to the distribution of land property and a large bulk of income inequality is related with labor incomes and retribution to human capital (Shorrocks 1982). However, in traditional pre-industrial economies, most of the population worked in the primary sector, land and labor were the most important productive factors and land property was a major source of income, power and status. In these economies, where average human capital was relatively low, most of economic inequality is expected to be explained by land distribution; even though labor retributions can be an important share of the total value of production, if labor is evenly distributed across individuals, its contribution to total income inequality would be small. So far, many scholars have relied on the methodological assumption that, in preindustrial economies, inequality of assets like land or real estate could be considered a reasonable proxy of income inequality because the different subsets of wealth would correlate very well with each other and all of them would correlate very well with income (for instance, Alfani 2015; Lindert 2014; Alfani and Ammannati 2017).

We have scrutinized the validity of this assumption in our paper. In highly urbanized commercial junctures, trading capital is probably important as well as Soltow and Van Zanden (1998) assume for Amsterdam in the eighteenth century and even in less economically advanced societies, labor income differences can be important: Nicolini and Ramos-Palencia (2016) have suggested that labor incomes contribute up to 65% of income inequality in urban areas of Old Castile in the 18th century and Álvarez and Ramos-Palencia (2018) have stressed the importance of human capital to explain income inequality in the same region and period.

Our article presents a new data set to analyze economic inequality in Spain based on information, circa 1750, from Palencia, Madrid, Guadalajara and Granada. This data set has some unique characteristics. First, it combines information from two different sources: probate inventories, which contain detailed descriptions of household wealth; and the Ensenada Cadastre, a mid-century government census that contains information about household income, the contribution of each income source (for instance land or labor) to total income and other characteristics like household head’s occupation and ability to sign. Second, the data set enables us to link the households from the set of inventories with their corresponding records in the Cadastre; this connection makes it possible to analyze the relationship between the income of a household when the Cadastre was produced and the wealth of that household some years later, when its head passed away. This data set opens the possibility to link the distributions of income and wealth so that we can propose hypotheses via which their differences can be better understood and the possible shortcomings of using one as a proxy for the other.

We find that the income assigned by the EC and the wealth registered in the PIs are closely associated suggesting that, even though income inequality seems to be consistently less than wealth inequality, both variables capture very well a unique dimension of economic inequality in pre-industrial economies and that a given household’s location in one distribution depends strongly on its location in the other. Given that many times, data scarcity forces researchers to use the distribution of wealth, real estate or other assets to approximate the distribution of income (Alfani 2017, Lindert 2014), the confirmation that household’s wealth can be a very good predictor of income is extremely valuable from a methodological point of view.

Using an econometric specification in which both income and wealth are stated in terms of their logarithms the elasticity of income with respect to wealth varies between 0.4 and 0.6 (depending on the specification). These values imply that a 10% increase in the wealth of a household is associated with its income being from 4% to 6% higher. Elasticity that is less than 1 is consistent with general observations –confirmed with our data- that wealth inequality is greater than income inequality.

The parameters associated with our Secondary and Tertiary dummy variables are positive and the former is statistically significant in all the specifications. This result suggests that, for a given level of wealth, households with a head who works in one of those sectors, particularly in the secondary sector, tend to have more income than households with a head who works in the primary sector. Variables proxying human capital also have a sizable impact on the income distribution: for a given level of wealth those heads of households with skills (mainly captured by the kind of occupation but also by the ability to sign) have significantly larger incomes than those without skills highlighting the importance of the human capital in the determination of labor incomes (Álvarez and Ramos-Palencia 2018). 

For instance, using the parameters obtained in the regression in levels (see specification C in the table above), we can compare the income predicted by our equation for a head of a household without any wealth or human capital and working in the agricultural sector (394 reales) with the income predicted for a similar household but with some human capital; if we add literacy to this head of the household, income would increase 90% (up to 749 reales) and if we predict the income with a high-skill occupation income would increase 224% (up to 1278 reales).

These examples show that the way in which the wealth and income distributions are related is more complex than the one suggested by a pure traditional and agricultural society in which land and real estate are the only productive assets generating social differentiation. Our results suggest the relationship between income and wealth can be affected in some non -trivial ways if the whole society or some households experience shocks like mortality picks or migration (voluntary or forced) that change the nature and strength of that correlation. This multidimensional nature of the income inequality is not necessarily surprising and the roles of different kind of assets and human capital in the income distribution have been already emphasized for urban sophisticated economies in 17th and 18th centuries (Soltow and Van Zanden 1998). However, the confirmation of this pattern in a relatively backward and traditional economy (Alvarez-Nogal and Prados de la Escosura 2013) would suggest that in Modern Europe, structural change, urbanization and sophistication of labor markets would generate complex changes in the income distribution and in the relationship between overall income, income sources and wealth that can be overlooked if we focus only on one dimension of economic inequality.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Call for submissions: FIFTH EREH FAST TRACK MEETING, December 2020.

The previous fast track meetings were held in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2017 in Paris, Lisbon and London, organized by the European Historical Economics Society and the editors of the European Review of Economic History. They resulted in the publication of several high-quality papers in the European Review of Economic History. The idea of the meeting is to provide feedback and coaching to junior scholars (those no more than five years from completion of their PhD) working in any field of Economic History and to give them a chance to see their articles appear in print quickly.


Those interested should submit their papers to European Review of Economic History, via the manuscript central system - no later than 30th November 2020. When submitting through manuscript central, please mention in the cover letter that you would like your paper considered for Fast Track.


The most promising papers will be selected for the Fast Track Meeting by the editors. This meeting will take place online between 15th and 22nd December (time/date for presentations will be adjusted to authors’ constraints). The presentations will be attended by the editors and a group of external referees. The objective of this meeting is to improve the quality of the submissions and to streamline the process of refereeing. We recognize that diverse ideas, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives are fundamental to successful publication and we are committed to ensuring that this panel is inclusive, diverse, and representative of the broad Economic History community.   

The editorial board commits to returning editorial decisions and referee reports to the authors by January 2021.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

The Past’s Long Shadow: Network analysis of Economic History

Author: Gregori Galofré-Vilà (Postdoctoral Researcher at Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona Institute of Political Economy and Governance).

This column uses network analysis to review the development of economic history over the last 40 years. It shows how economic historians are interconnected through their research, which scholars are most cited by their peers, and the main debates within the discipline. The survey also shows that after 2000, the number of publications rapidly accelerated. This rise has been driven by research conducted at continental European universities instead of those from the US and UK.

Economic history has emerged as a crucial discipline to understand how our past was shaped by the different economic trends and forces and, crucially, to inform our thinking about our present and future economic realities (Abramitzky 2015; Diebolt and Haupert 2018; Eichengreen 2018; Margo 2018). Therefore, as an academic field, it has an enormous potential to contribute to many crucial debates in economics and public policy. Hence, it is a matter of great interest to elucidate how this area of academic inquiry has evolved in terms of its central debates and publishing trends.
By using the details of articles published in the main eight journals in economic history since 1980 (Table 1), in this column I review the development of the discipline by using network analysis, mapping out disciplinary silos in authorship and areas of inquiry in economic history.[1] Although economic history goes beyond what is being published in economic history journals (of course, journals in economics, demography and sociology also publish the findings of economic historians),[2] it seems reasonable to focus on papers published by the top economic history journals, namely, those publishing articles in economic history broadly-construed and, hence, capturing the main debates and interests in the research area under scrutiny here.

Table 1. Journals included in the review

Network analysis in Economic History
Figure 1 shows the relatedness among economic history. Network analysis is based on the assumption that authors cited together share some kind of intellectual affinity. Hence, a network map captures how authors (and, consequently, the ideas and debates associated with them) sit in relation to each other across the field. In the network map, bubble sizes (nodes) correspond to the number of citations received by each author, while the distance between bubbles corresponds to the tendency for authors to be cited together within articles. Clusters (represented by different colors) group together bubbles (i.e. authors) that display some degree of similarity according to research topics or debates.
As reflected by the bubble size and position, the most important economic historian in the network is Jeffrey Williamson. Williamson is well-known for showing that globalization began in the early 19th century and not before (during the time of Columbus) and for exploring America’s income distribution since 1650. He is followed by Robert Allen, who defended a ‘high wage economy’ thesis for England to industrialize first; Nicholas Crafts, who conducted research on growth accounting and England’s industrialization; Richard Steckel, who shed new light on the health of the slaves in the US South and the development of well-being in America and Europe over the very long-run; and Peter Lindert, who explored the causes and effects of modern fiscal redistribution and the interaction between social spending and economic growth. From a list including 325 scholars, other well-positioned economic historians in the network are Gregory Clark, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Sara Horrell, Stephen Broadberry, Joerg Baten, Jane Humphries, Knick Harley, John Komlos, Robert Margo, Cormac Ó Gráda, David Jacks, John Turner, Kevin O’Rourke, Deborah Oxley, Price Fishback and Hans-Joachim Voth.

Figure 1. Authors’ publications

Network analysis also allows us to visualize what economic historians are doing research on and the main debates within the discipline. Figure 2 maps the keywords listed in the articles studied. Research on economic growth (yellow bubbles), i.e. exploring why some countries became rich while others stayed poor, has been the most important area in terms of publications. Another vigorous area of research has been the social history of demography (blue bubbles), that is, exploring changes in fertility, health and mortality. Green bubbles correspond to papers devoted to changes in inequality driven by wealth, labor markets and migration; while bubbles in turquoise (tracking keywords such as ‘revolution’, ‘real wages’ and ‘property rights’) connect with yellow and blue bubbles at the crowded center of the network and with some thematic areas (red bubbles) such as market, economic depressions, the gold standard and the railroads. Red bubbles also include some statistical keywords such as ‘models’, ‘time-series’ and ‘cointegration’, which display the important component of statistics in the discipline.

Figure 2. Thematic areas

Recent trends in publications
Finally, a look at the number of publications in the main economic history journals (Figure 3), reveals that the number of publications was fairly constant between 1980 and 2000 and then rapidly accelerated after 2000. This rise after 2000 has been driven by a shift in publication distribution from the US/UK to continental Europe.[3]
The percentage of articles published in the top economic history journals by scholars working in US universities plummeted between 1980 and today (going from 60% to 30% of all scholars), whereas economic historians working in UK and non-European universities (chiefly, Canada, Australia and Japan) maintained their publication shares at 17% and 14%, respectively. Hence, the rise in the number of publications since the early 2000s appears to be due to continental European-based economic historians; countries most responsible for the change in the publication trend were Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy.
European universities are not only the ones leading the discipline in terms of quantity (number of publications), but also in terms of quality as measured by the adjusted number of citations.[4] For instance, since 2010, these universities received, on average, 5.5 citations for published paper, compared to 5.3 in the UK, 4.2 in the US, and 3.8 outside these three areas. This hierarchy differs from earlier periods. For 1980-1989, the US was the leader in accumulating citations (18.8 citations per paper), followed by the UK (15.0), Europe (13.0), and other areas (12.7). For the period 1990 and 1999, the UK received 17.6 citations per paper, compared to the US (15.7), Europe (14.6), and outside these three areas (11.6).[5]

Figure 3. Journal’s publications and publications by main continental areas

The present study shows that economic history is a dynamic discipline: the evolution of publication trends speaks to the changes in the distribution of academic excellence, and there is clear evidence that a healthy variety of topics capture the attention of researchers across the globe. We cannot know how the field will evolve but, as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, economic historians have every reason to look without complacency but with confidence and excitement at an increasingly open-ended and diverse future based on what we have learnt from our past.

Abramitzky, R., 2015. "Economics and the Modern Economic Historian," Journal of Economic History 75: 1240-1251.
Diebolt, C., Haupert, M., 2018. "We Are Ninjas: How Economic History has Infiltrated Economics," Unpublished manuscript.
Eichengreen, B., 2018. The Populist Temptation: Economic Grievance and Political Reaction in the Modern Era. Oxford University Press.
Galofré-Vilà, G., 2020. "The Past’s Long Shadow. A Systematic Review and Network Analysis of Economic History," Research in Economic History (Forthcoming in vol. 36).
Margo, R. A., 2018. "The Integration of Economic History into Economics," Cliometrica 12:3, 377-406.

[1] For more details see Galofré-Vilà (2020).
[2] For instance, economic history papers published in the top-five economic journals are narrowly focused on persistence studies that explain present outcomes as a function of events in the distant past. The paper from Acemoglu Johnson and Robinson ‘Reversal of Fortune’ is a good example of this practice.
[3] While the rise of publications by scholars in European universities correlates with the launch of two European journals (EREH and CLIO), the appearance of these two European journals does not seem to explain the success of European scholars. Nearly half of the articles published by these two journals were signed by non-European scholars and since 2000 European based scholars also increased their share in Anglo-Saxon journals.
[4] The EU-14 group consists of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.
[5] Naturally, older papers are more likely to accumulate citations.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Secular stagnation and the global surge in house prices

by Julius Probst

The decline in global real interest rates

Back in 2013, Larry Summers started to believe that most advanced economies have entered a new macroeconomic regime, a prolonged period of lower economic growth as a result of insufficient aggregate demand. In a recent piece, I argued that Summers' revival of the secular stagnation hypothesis has been the most important contribution to modern macroeconomics (Probst, 2019a). According to the secular stagnation theory, a combination of macroeconomic factors have pushed down real interest rates on a global level. These forces include adverse demographics, falling productivity growth, and rising inequality. With the decline in interest rates, Central Banks increasingly struggle to keep the economy at full employment because they cannot reduce interest rates substantially below zero. Therefore, many countries will also have a higher risk of experiencing recessions and might suffer from prolonged negative output gaps when interest rates remain constrained by the so-called effective lower bound (Summers, 2015; 2016).

The chart below displays the secular downward trend of real interest rates for the Japan, the US, the UK, and the Eurozone. Most other rich economies have suffered the same fate since the 1980s. A lot of economic research has shown that global interest rates have declined significantly and that they are nowadays at record-low levels across advanced economies since the late 19th century (Probst, 2019c, Schmelzing, 2017). Some economists have even suggested that current interest rates have never been that low throughout human history since the early Antiquity (Haldane, 2015). The decline in interest rates also had the unintended side-effect of pushing up the price of financial assets around the world, both stock markets and real estate.

Figure 1: Real Interest rates
CB policy rates minus CPI, 1 year MA

Source: Macrobond

The global surge in real estate prices

The second figure below shows that inflation-adjusted house prices have almost tripled across many advanced economies since the end of Bretton Woods in the early 1970s. This has especially been the case for Anglo-Saxon economies, but the social-democratic economies of Scandinavia have been severely affected as well. While increasing financialization and the globalization of capital flows probably also played their part in pushing up local real estate prices in global cities like London, New York, and Paris, etc., researchers at the Bank of England have argued that a significant part of the increase is due to the decline in global real interest rates. The reason is simple. The value of any financial asset is simply the net present value of all its future cash flows discounted at the rate of interest. As interest rates decline, future cash flows become more valuable and therefore the fundamental value of the financial asset increases.

Figure 2: Real house prices, Dallas Fed Price Index
Source: Macrobond

A standard way of pricing financial assets is by using the dividend discount model, according to which the net present value (NPV) of a financial asset is given by the sum of all future cash flows (R) discounted by the rate of interest (i):

While the formula is usually applied to stock prices, it is equally valid to use it for housing or other investments. As inflation-adjusted interest rates have declined significantly across the world in recent decades (and the same is true for nominal interest rates), the price of real estate and other financial assets increases as future cash flows are now discounted at a lower rate of interest. Halving the rate of interest would roughly correspond to a doubling of financial asset prices. It therefore stands to reason that the secular downward trend of interest rates has indeed contributed to a large extent to the spectacular surge in house prices across advanced economies.

Germany and Japan are the outliers

However, the researchers from the Bank of England might have gone one step too far in attributing almost the entirety of the increase in house prices to falling interest rates. Dwellings are after all not only a financial asset, but they also provide us with one of the most important services in life, namely housing. The demand for housing in large metropolitan areas has increased significantly in recent decades as most jobs high-income jobs have been created in the large agglomerations. The forces of economic geography have increasingly favored big cities since the 1990s while more rural regions have largely lost out (Florida, 2016). This has been the case in the US, but also in most European countries like Germany, the UK, and Sweden. Consequently, house prices have performed extremely different across regions within countries. Furthermore, there also seem to be vast differences internationally. While some countries have seen their house prices explode in recent decades, mostly a combination of stronger population growth and restricted supply, other countries have experienced a very different trend. Most noticeably, real house prices in Germany and Japan have stayed relatively flat for a longer time period (see below). Japan has seen stagnating house prices for more than 2 decades since the explosion of its asset price bubble in the early 1990s while Germany’s house prices have only started to catch up to the international trend very recently. This suggests that supply-side factors are also extremely important in determining house prices. According to the following statistic, the metropolitan area of Tokyo added more individual housing units in 2014 than the entire country of England. Consequently, house prices in Tokyo have experienced a very different trend than most other metropolitan areas around the world where supply has been much more constrained.

Figure 3: Real house prices, Dallas Fed Price Index. Germany and Japan
Source: Macrobond


Summing up, the evidence for secular stagnation seems to be increasing as advanced economies continue to suffer from even lower interest rates and economic growth rates than what was widely expected just a few years ago (Probst, 2019a; 2019b). Moreover, this does not seem to reverse any time soon as financial markets have priced in low interest rates for the foreseeable future. Secular stagnation also had the undesirable side-effect of bidding up house prices around the world as a result of low interest rates. However, the financial blog by the Bank of England might have somewhat overstated its case. Dwellings are not only a financial asset, but also a real commodity. While the entire advanced world has suffered from low interest rates during the last decade, supply-side constraints can explain why San Francisco or New York have experienced exploding house prices whereas this has not been the case in Tokyo, for example.

·         Florida, R. (2016). Winner-take-all urbanism: Geographic divisions in the modern era. Brown J. World Aff., 23, 103.
·         Gordon, M. J. (1962). The investment, financing, and valuation of the corporation. Homewood, IL: RD Irwin.
·         Haldane, A. (2015). Stuck. Bank of England Speeches.
·         Probst, J. (2019a). Lawrence Summers Deserves a Nobel Prize for Reviving the Theory of Secular Stagnation. Econ Journal Watch, 16(2), 342.
·         Probst, J. (2019b). Secular stagnation: it’s time to admit that Larry Summers was right about this global economic growth trap. The Conversation.
·         Probst, J. (2019c). Global real interest rate dynamics from the late 19th century to today. International Review of Economics & Finance, 59, 522-547.
·         Schmelzing, P. (2017). Eight Centuries of the Risk-Free Rate: Bond Market Reversals from the Venetians to the ‘VaR Shock’.
·         Summers, L. H. (2015). Demand side secular stagnation. American Economic Review, 105(5), 60-65.
·         Summers, L. H. (2016). The age of secular stagnation: What it is and what to do about it. Foreign Aff., 95, 2.

Julius Probst is a Customer Specialist at Macrobond Financial, a macroeconomic search engine and analysis tool and provider of financial time series data. Previously, he was a PhD student at the Economic History Department at Lund University and a PhD trainee at the ECB. He also has a blog on macroeconomics at macrothoughts.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Sex ratios and missing girls in 19th-century Greece

The “missing girls” phenomenon, arising from discriminatory practices that result in excess female mortality early in life, has been especially dramatic in China and India. Analyzing sex ratios, the number of boys per hundred girls, in 19th-century Europe, recent research suggests that these practices could have also been present in some European regions. One of the countries where the relative number of boys was more extreme is Greece, so our current work sheds more light on this particular case.

The previous images refer to The Murderess, a short story written by Alexandros Papadiamantis in 1903, that provides a bleak picture of the fate of Greek women at that time. Reflecting on her own life, the central female character realizes that there is nothing worse than being born a woman and this thought leads her to kill a series of young girls, including her new-born niece, almost as a mercy to save them from a gloomy future. This story is probably an exaggeration but the evidence we have gathered suggests that the mortality rates of Greek girls was much higher than what would have been normal in the absence of discriminatory practices.

Apart from abundant anecdotal evidence on son preference and the discrimination suffered by many girls, the Greek population censuses in the late-19th- and early-20th-century clearly point to the existence of “missing girls”.  During the period 1879-1920, the sex ratio under 5 years old ranged between 106.7 and 109.5 boys per hundred girls. These figures are abnormally high because, as explained here, the gender-neutral sex ratio should be lower than 101-102. The quality of Greek birth registers was lacking but this source also points in the same direction: the sex ratio at birth was around 111 and 119 boys per hundred girls in 1860 and 1884, respectively. Greek families also seem to have abandoned many more girls than boys, at least in the foundling hospitals studied in Athens, Hermoupolis and Kephallenia.

Although it is plausible that the under-reporting of girls might be behind these figures, there are different reasons that preclude this possibility. Firstly, as already mentioned, there is abundant qualitative evidence suggesting that discriminatory practices were not exceptions but the norm. Moreover, the 1880 census itself explains that the statistical authorities were expecting boys, not girls, to be under-reported due to the military purpose of the census. In addition, if under-registration was an issue, it was surely more important at birth or during the first year of life. The Greek sex ratios, however, increased as children grew older. The next figure shows how the sex ratio of children aged 5-9 was higher than that of younger children (aged 0-4), especially up to 1920. This evidence not only suggests that female under-reporting was not an issue, but also that gender discrimination continued unduly increasing female mortality rates as girls got older.

Sex ratios at age 0-4 and 5-9, 1879-2001

The sex ratios of different age-groups also correlate quite well at the province level. If under-registration was affecting some areas, girls would eventually show up in the census when older, thus reducing the correlation coefficient. This was not the case. Lastly, the contemporaneous US censuses (where most Greeks migrated during this period) also confirmed that the relative number of boys and girls born in the US from Greek parents was very similar to the figures found in the motherland censuses. 

What was happening? It is difficult to be precise but it is likely that both female infanticide and different degrees of neglect during infancy and childhood unduly increased female mortality early in life. Regarding the latter and in a context of generalized poverty where infant and child mortality was really high, an unequal allocation of resources within the household in the way that young girls were fed or treated when ill, as well as in the amount of work which they were entrusted with, was likely to have resulted in more girls dying from the combined effect of malnutrition and illness. It seems also that discriminatory practices were stronger (or had a clearer effect due to lack of resources) in large families.

Why were Greek girls discriminated? Although there is not just one factor behind this behaviour, the most important one is probably the dowry. Marrying their daughters was one of the main duties of Greek parents and this was connected to how generous the dowry was. In poor families, and especially in those with several daughters, girls were a heavy burden. The analysis of the regional variation in sex ratios also indicates that excess female mortality was higher in those areas where female labour opportunities were scarce. In any case, our work stresses that gender discrimination constituted an important problem in 19th-century Greece, an issue that has long been neglected despite all the hints that pointed in that direction.

Beltrán Tapia, F.J. and Raftakis, M., ‘All little girls, the bad luck!’ Sex ratios and gender discrimination in 19th-century Greece, EHES Working Paper 172 (November 2019).
A Spanish versión of this post was published in Nada es Gratis in December 4, 2019.