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The Reluctant Transformation: State Industrialization, Religion, and Human Capital in Nineteenth-Century Egypt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 March 2015

Mohamed Saleh*
Assistant Professor at Toulouse School of Economics and the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse. Mailing address: Manufacture des Tabacs, 21 Allée de Brienne, Building F, Office MF 524, Toulouse Cedex 6, 31015, France. E-mail:


In 1805–1882, Egypt embarked on one of the earliest state industrialization programs. Using a new data source, the Egyptian nineteenth-century population censuses, I examine the impact of the program on the long-standing inter-religious human capital differentials, which were in favor of Christians. I find that there were inter-religious differentials in reaping the benefits (or losses) of industrialization. The first state industrialization wave was “de-skilling” among Muslims but “up-skilling” among Christians, while the second wave was “up-skilling” for both groups. I interpret the results within Lawrence F. Katz and Robert A. Margo (2013) framework of technical change.

Copyright © The Economic History Association 2015 

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I sincerely thank Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, the former editor of The Journal of Economic History and three anonymous referees for their excellent comments. I am grateful to my PhD advisors, Dora Costa and Leah Boustan for their support and advice. I gratefully acknowledge the financial support for the digitization of the Egyptian census manuscripts that I received from IPUMS, EHA, and USC. I sincerely thank the National Archives of Egypt for their logistical support to undertake the project. I thank Jeffrey Nugent, Naomi Lamoreaux, Steven Ruggles, Joel Mokyr, Jeffrey Williamson, Price Fishback, Jeremy Atack, Ragui Assaad, Timur Kuran, Richard Easterlin, Christian Hellwig, Marti Mestieri, and Dimitris Pipinis for their valuable comments and suggestions. I benefited from presenting earlier versions of the paper at UCLA, NBER, EHA, Cliometric Society, USC, TSE, PSE, Warwick, Leicester, University of Southern Denmark, and Georgetown Public Policy Institute. Finally, I am indebted to Julie Iskander and the data entry team for their help on the digitization project. All errors are mine.



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