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Beyond building craftsmen. Economic growth and living standards in the sixteenth-century Low Countries: the case of 's-Hertogenbosch (1500–1560)

  • BRUNO BLONDÉ (a1) and JORD HANUS (a1)
Abstract

Economic historians are increasingly aware of the divergence between the development of real wages and GDP per capita in pre-industrial Europe, even in affluent urbanized societies with high wage levels such as the sixteenth-century Low Countries. This article offers an empirical answer to this alleged paradox by merging living standards and real wages with income distributions in a case study of sixteenth-century 's-Hertogenbosch. It provides evidence for an optimistic reading of the living standards of this era despite the modest performance of the urban economy and a strong decline in real wages. The rich sources of 's-Hertogenbosch were instrumental in reaching this conclusion, as they offer proof that the drop in wage labourers' purchasing power was paralleled by a marked decline in social position. As such, their income experience turns out to be surprisingly atypical, and does little to capture the strong resilience of the majority of the urban populace in the face of the early price revolution.

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European Review of Economic History
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