Adopting a new technology: potatoes and population growth in the periphery

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Adopting a new technology : potatoes and population growth in the periphery. / Berger, Thor.

In: Economic History Review, Vol. 72, No. 3, 2019, p. 869-896.

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TY - JOUR

T1 - Adopting a new technology

T2 - potatoes and population growth in the periphery

AU - Berger, Thor

PY - 2019

Y1 - 2019

N2 - Sweden's population doubled in size between 1750 and 1850 despite a century of stagnating per capita incomes and real wages, which has led many historians to attribute the population explosion to the introduction of the potato. This article provides the first systematic evidence on the potato's contribution to Swedish living standards and population growth. Potatoes at least doubled output per acre, and welfare ratios that account for potato consumption imply that they raised living standards significantly for labourers. Estimates that exploit regional differences in the suitability of land for cultivating potatoes further show that cities, counties, and rural parishes with more land suitable for potato cultivation experienced a sharp relative acceleration in population growth as the potato spread in the early nineteenth century. An expansion of the population was mainly driven by relative increases in fertility and, consistent with Malthusian predictions, there was no long-run impact on per capita incomes. According to these estimates, the introduction and spread of the potato can account for one-tenth of population growth between 1800 and 1850, thus suggesting that it was an important catalyst for the Swedish population explosion.

AB - Sweden's population doubled in size between 1750 and 1850 despite a century of stagnating per capita incomes and real wages, which has led many historians to attribute the population explosion to the introduction of the potato. This article provides the first systematic evidence on the potato's contribution to Swedish living standards and population growth. Potatoes at least doubled output per acre, and welfare ratios that account for potato consumption imply that they raised living standards significantly for labourers. Estimates that exploit regional differences in the suitability of land for cultivating potatoes further show that cities, counties, and rural parishes with more land suitable for potato cultivation experienced a sharp relative acceleration in population growth as the potato spread in the early nineteenth century. An expansion of the population was mainly driven by relative increases in fertility and, consistent with Malthusian predictions, there was no long-run impact on per capita incomes. According to these estimates, the introduction and spread of the potato can account for one-tenth of population growth between 1800 and 1850, thus suggesting that it was an important catalyst for the Swedish population explosion.

U2 - 10.1111/ehr.12743

DO - 10.1111/ehr.12743

M3 - Article

VL - 72

SP - 869

EP - 896

JO - Economic History Review

JF - Economic History Review

SN - 1468-0289

IS - 3

ER -