Italy and the little divergence in wages and prices: evidence from stable employment in rural areas†

Jacob Weisdorf, Mauro Rota
Published Online:
15 Sep 2020

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Abstract This article presents an early modern wage index for stable rural male workers in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. These wages highlight the importance of distinguishing between locations and contract types when considering historical workers’ living standards, and they speak to a longstanding debate about whether Italy's early modern downturn was purely an urban phenomenon, or an all‐embracing one. Our data lend support to the former view, since we do not detect any downturn in our early modern rural wages. This observation informs the little divergence debate. By comparing rural rather than urban wages and stable rather than casual ones, we find that annual English earnings rose from being only 10 per cent higher than those in Italy in 1650 to being a staggering 150 per cent higher in 1800. If wages reflected labour productivity, then unskilled English workers—unlike their Italian counterparts—grew increasingly productive in the run‐up to the industrial revolution.

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