The timing and pattern of real wage divergence in pre‐industrial Europe: evidence from Germany, c. 1500–1850

Ulrich Pfister
Published Online:
25 Feb 2017
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 70 Issue 3

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This study uses price information relating to 12 towns and wage information from 18 towns to develop a real wage index for unskilled urban labourers in Germany during the three‐and‐a‐half centuries preceding the onset of rapid industrialization. Combining the new series with information from other parts of Europe establishes two stages of real wage divergence during the seventeenth to nineteenth century. The first occurred in the middle of the seventeenth century when real wages in centres of trade and finance located on the rim of the North Sea rose far above the level prevailing in their hinterland. The second stage unfolded from the second quarter of the eighteenth century when the real wage in south England, northern and central Italy, and Germany began to diverge; Germany followed a middle path between the other two countries. The second commercial revolution, which improved business techniques and promoted Smithian growth, goes a long way towards accounting for this development.

© Economic History Society 2017

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