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3 new economics studies suggest the persistent and surprising effects of social institutions on history

For long holiday weekends, Free Lunch likes to sit to back and contemplate the very long view of economic development. Here, for your delectation, are three studies of the very long shadow historical conditions — sometimes very short-term decisions — cast on later economic outcomes. All were presented at this week’s Royal Economic Society’s annual conference.

The first provides a new illustration of our admonition on Wednesday to take gender and other identity categories seriously in economic analysis. Why did the industrial revolution start in northwest Europe? Because, argue James Foreman-Peck and Peng Zhou, of a “uniquely high female age at first marriage — around 25 — from at the latest the fifteenth century”. The delay before marriage helped reduce fertility and increase skill and work experience, which allowed human capital and productivity to accumulate over generations. The authors surmise that such fertility control and family planning also boosts economic development in poor countries today.

Two other papers look at the very long-term effects of state institutions and property rights, respectively. Sascha Becker, Katrin Boeckh, Christa Hainz and Ludger Woessmann have cleverly noticed that several countries have for generations straddled the old boundary of the Habsburg empire. But in people’s attitudes, the border lives on.

Read entire article at Financial Times