Physiological constraints and the transition to growth: implications for comparative development

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It is a well known fact that economic development and distance to the equator are positively correlated variables in the world today. It is perhaps less well known that as recently as 1500 C.E. it was the other way around. The present paper provides a theory of why the ‘latitude gradient’ changed sign in the course of the last half millennium. In particular, we develop a dynamic model of economic and physiological development in which households decide upon the number and nutrition of their offspring. In this setting we demonstrate that relatively high metabolic costs of fertility, which may have emerged due to positive selection towards greater cold tolerance in locations away from the equator, would work to stifle economic development during pre-industrial times, yet allow for an early onset of sustained growth. As a result, the theory suggests a reversal of fortune whereby economic activity gradually shifts away from the equator in the process of long-term economic development. Our empirical results give supporting evidence for our hypothesis.

TidsskriftJournal of Economic Growth
Sider (fra-til)241-289
StatusUdgivet - 2021

Bibliografisk note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Thilo Albers, Francois Bourguignon, David de la Croix, Oded Galor, Nippe Lagerlöf, Anastasia Litina, Omar Licandro, Fabio Mariani, David Weil, Asger Wingender and participants at CESifo summer institute (Demographic Change and Long-Run Development), the 8th Louvain Symposium on Economic Dynamics, the workshop on “The Long Shadow of History: The Role of Geographical, Institutional, Cultural, and Human Factors in Comparative Economic Development” at the University of Tel Aviv, the conference “Deep Roots of Economic Growth” in Naples, and seminars at the University of Pretoria, the University of Leicester, and Humboldt University, Berlin, as well as three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Jakob B. Madsen gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Australian Research Council (Grants DP150100061 and DP170100339).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).

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