March, 2021

The Economic Impact of the Black Death

  • Noel D. Johnson

    Senior Research Fellow
  • Mark Koyama

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
  • Remi Jedwab

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The Black Death was the largest demographic shock in European history. We review the evidence for the origins, spread, and mortality of the disease. We document that it was a plausibly exogenous shock to the European economy and trace out its aggregate and local impacts in both the short-run and the long-run. The initial effect of the plague was highly disruptive. Wages and per capita income rose. But, in the long run, this rise was only sustained in some parts of Europe. The other indirect long-run effects of the Black Death are associated with the growth of Europe relative to the rest of the world, especially Asia and the Middle East (the Great Divergence), a shift in the economic geography of Europe towards the Northwest (the Little Divergence), the demise of serfdom in Western Europe, a decline in the authority of religious institutions, and the emergence of stronger states. Finally, avenues for future research are laid out.