Consequences of growth: Living standards and inequality

Jan Luiten van Zanden, Bas van Leeuwen, Yi Xu

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The evolution of living standards during the period of early industrialization has been a hotly debated topic. Indeed, at least four major debates have to be mentioned in any review of this issue. The initial, classic debate concerns the consequences of the Industrial Revolution on living standards – in particular in England, although similar discussions have been going on for other countries. The three subsequent debates have refined the initial debate by including comparisons with other parts of the world. The second of the four debates relates to the Little Divergence: why is it that North-western and Southern Europe grew apart? The third of the four adds a further international dimension: in the ‘Great Divergence’ debate the issue is at what time did the standard of living of the population of Western Europe start to diverge significantly from that of the rest of the world, in particular from China. Kenneth Pomeranz (2000) maintains that this did not happen until the final decades of the 18th century. Specifically, up until about 1780 the standard of living of the Chinese was the same, or nearly the same, as that of the inhabitants of the UK. A fourth, related, debate concerns the comparison of well-being between the UK and the US (or before 1776, the North American colonies). New research by, amongst others, Allen et al. (2012) and Lindert and Williamson (2015) concludes that the standard of living of North American settlers was at least on par with, and probably even higher than, that of English workers. The contribution of this chapter is to present estimates for the three dimensions of the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) – real income, life expectancy, and education – to discuss trends and international disparities for the period 1700-1900, and, finally, to present a set of estimates of that IHDI for the countries concerned.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World, Volume 1 (1700-1870)
EditorsStephen Broadberry, Kyoji Fukao
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781009038027
ISBN (Print)9781107159457
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameThe Cambridge Economic History


  • inequality
  • growth
  • world
  • human capital
  • population


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