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Sharecropping and Investment in Agriculture in Early Modern France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

Philip T. Hoffman
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125.


The paper examines the spread of sharecropping that followed a wave of investment in agriculture in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. Using results from the modern theory of share contracts, it argues that sharecropping was a means of risk sharing that favored both landlords and tenants. Although the evidence used in this paper comes from France, the results may well apply to other areas of early modern Europe.

Papers Presented at the Forty-First Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1982

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1 Merle, Louis, La métairie et l'évolution agraire de la Gâtine poitevine de la fin du Moyen Age à la Revolution (Paris, 1958), P. 53.Google Scholar See Hoffman, Philip T., “Investment in Agriculture in Early Modern FranceCalifornia Institute of Technology Social Science Working Paper 406 (09 1981), for an analysis of the wave of investment in land in early modern France and for a more detailed discussion of sharecropping.Google Scholar

2 For what follows, see Newbery, David, “Risk Sharing, Sharecropping and Uncertain Labour Markets,” Review of Economic Studies, 44 (10 1977), 585–94Google Scholar, the latest word on the subject. See also Stigljtz, Joseph, “Incentives and Risk Sharing in Sharecropping,” Review of Economic Studies, 41 (04 1974), 219–55;Google ScholarBell, Clive and Zusman, Pinhas, “A Bargaining Theoretic Approach to Cropsharing Contracts,” The American Economic Review, 66 (09 1976), 578–88;Google Scholar and Hallagan, William, “Self Selection by Contractual Choice and the Theory of Sharecropping,” Bell Journal of Economics (Autumn 1978), 344–54.Google Scholar Economic historians have of course contributed greatly to the literature on sharecropping. For references, see, in particular, the works by Higgs, Robert and Reid, Joseph cited in Reid's overview of the literature, “the Theory of Share Tenancy Revisited—Again,” Journal of Political Economy, 85 (04 1977), 403–07.Google Scholar

3 For a discussion of these conditions, see Hoffman, “Investment in Agriculture.”.Google Scholar

4 For the problems of applying theory to traditional Europe, see Hoffman, “Investment in Agriculture”.Google Scholar

5 de Serres, Olivier, Le théâtre d'agriculture (Paris, 1600), pp. 5253.Google Scholar

6 Merle, La métairie, pp. 161–85, 205–26;Google ScholarDontenwill, Serge, “Les baux à mi-fruits en roannais et brionnais aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles,” in Lyon et l' Europe: Hommes et Sociétés: Mé langes d'histoire offerts à Richard Gascon vol. 2 (Lyon, 1980), pp. 179208;Google ScholarDurand, Georges, Vin, vigne et vigerons en Lyonnais et Beaujolais (Lyon, 1979), pp. 310–11. Examples abound in notarial registers.Google Scholar

7 Gascon, Richard, Grand commerce et vie urbaine au XVIe siècle: Lyon et ses marchands, 2 vol. (Paris, 1971), pp. 813–62;Google ScholarMerle, La métairie, pp. 163–67, 186–93, 224–26.Google Scholar

8 Merle, La métairie, p. 127.Google Scholar

9 Ibid., pp. 109, 117–18.

10 de Serres, Le théâtre d'agriculture, pp. 45–54. For examples, see Dontenwill, “Les baux àmifruits,” pp. 179–208. It should be pointed out that the theory of sharecropping is consitent with the coexistence of rental, share, and wage-labor farming; see Hoffman, “Investment in Agriculture.”Google Scholar

11 Why sharecropping did not appear in the north of France (or Germany)will require further research. Here the theory of sharecropping can at least furnish us with hypotheses.Google Scholar

12 Merle, La métairie, pp. 161–85; Dontenwill, “Les baux à mi-fruits,” pp. 179208.Google Scholar

13 Merle, La métairie, pp. 49–62, 71–79, 102–06, 124–37;Google ScholarJacquart, Jean, “Immobilisme et catastrophes,” in Duby, Georges and Wallon, Armand, eds., Histoire de la France rurale, vol. 2 (Paris, 1975), pp. 226–35.Google Scholar

14 Merle, La métairie, pp. 137–38;Google Scholar cf.O'Brien, Patrick K. and Keyder, Caglar, Economic Growth in Britian and France 1780–1914 (London, 1978).Google Scholar