Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Road Not Taken: Pre-Revolutionary Cuban Living Standards in Comparative Perspective



We examine Cuban GDP over time and across space. We find that Cuba was once a prosperous middle-income economy. On the eve of the revolution, incomes were 50 to 60 percent of European levels. They were among the highest in Latin America at about 30 percent of the United States. In relative terms, Cuba was richer earlier on. Income per capita during the 1920s was in striking distance of Western Europe and the Southern United States. After the revolution, Cuba slipped down the world income distribution. Current levels of income per capita appear below their pre-revolutionary peaks.



Hide All
Alienes Urosa, Julián. Características Fundamentales de la Economía Cubana. Havana: Banco Nacional de Cuba, 1950.
Baklanoff, Eric N. “Cuba on the Eve of the Socialist Transition: A Reassessment of the Backwardness-Stagnation Thesis.” Cuba in Transition. 8, Papers and Proceeds of ASCE, 1998.
Baklanoff, Eric N.“A Bountiful Legacy: U.S. Investment and Economic Diversification in Cuba During the 1950s.” Cuba in Transition 19, Papers and Proceeds of ASCE, 2009.
Barro, Robert. J., and Jose, F. Ursua. “Macroeconomic Crises Since 1870.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (Spring 2008): 255350.
Birnberg, Thomas, and Resnick, Stephen. Colonial Development: An Econometric Study. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975.
Christopher, Blattman, Hwang, Jason, and Jeffrey, G. Williamson. “Winners and Losers in the Commodity Lottery: The Impact of Terms of Trade Growth and Volatility in the Periphery, 1870–1939.” Journal of Development Economics 82, no. 1 (2007): 156–79.
Braithwaite, Stanley N.“Real Income Levels in Latin America.” Review of Income and Wealth 14, no. 2 (1968): 113–82.
Brundenius, Claes. Revolutionary Cuba: The Challenge of Economic Growth with Equity. Westview Special Studies on Latin America and the Caribbean. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984.
Clark, Colin. The Conditions of Economic Progress, 3rd edition. London: Macmillan, 1957.
Coatsworth, John. “Economic and Institutional Trajectories in Nineteenth-Century Latin America.” In Latin America and the World Economy Since 1800, edited by Coatsworth, John and Taylor, Alan, 2354. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.
Deaton, Angus, and Heston, Alan. “Understanding PPPs and PPP-Based National Accounts.” American Economics Journal: Macroeconomics 2, no. 4 (2010): 135.
Dye, Alan. Cuban Sugar in the Age of Mass Production: Technology and the Economics of the Sugar Central, 1899–1929. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). “A Measurement of Price Levels and the Purchasing Power of Currencies in Latin America, 1960–1962.” Economic Bulletin for Latin America 8 (1963): 195237.
Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). “Series Históricas del Crecimiento de América Latina.” Series Históricas del Crecimiento de América Latina. Santiago, Chile: Economic Commission for Latin America, 1978.
Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA). Statistical Yearbook. Santiago, Chile: Economic Commission for Latin America, 2008.
Engerman, Stanley L., and Kenneth, L. Sokoloff. “Factor Endowments, Institutions, and Differential Paths of Growth Among New World Economies: A View from Economic Historians of the United States.” In How Latin America Fell Behind edited by Haber, Stephen, 260304. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997.
Feinstein, Charles H.National Income, Expenditure, and Output of the United Kingdom, 1855–1965. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.
Fukao, Kyoji, Ma, Debin, and Yuan, Tangjun. “Real GDP in Prewar East Asia: A 1934–36 Benchmark Purchasing Power Parity Comparison with the United States.” Review of Income and Wealth 53, no. 3 (2007): 503–37.
Gallman, Robert. “Economic Growth and Structural Change in the Long Nineteenth Century.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the United States, edited by Engerman, Stanley and Gallman, Robert, 155. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Gilbert, Milton, and Associates. Comparative National Products and Price Levels. Paris: OEEC, 1958.
Gilbert, Milton, and Kravis, Irving. An International Comparison of National Products and the Purchasing Power of Currencies. Paris: OEEC, 1954.
Gutman, Pierre. “The Measurement of Terms of Trade Effects.” Review of Income and Wealth 27, no. 4 (1981): 433–53.
Heston, Alan. “A Comparison of Some Shortcut Methods of Estimating Real Product per Capita.” Review of Income and Wealth 19, no. 1 (1973): 79104.
Heston, Alan, Summers, Robert, and Aten, Bettina. Penn World Table, Version 6.2. Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income, and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania, September 2006.
International Labor Office. Yearbook of Labor Statistics. Geneva: ILO, 1955.
Kenny, Charles. “Why Are We Worried About Income? Nearly Everything That Matters is Converging.” World Development 33, no. 1 (2005): 119.
Kohli, Ulrich. “Real GDP, Real Domestic Income, and Terms-of-Trade Changes.” Journal of International Economics 62, no. 1 (2004): 83106.
Lewis, W. Arthur. Growth and Fluctuations, 1870–1913. London: Allen and Unwin, 1978.
Locay, Luis. “Cuban Socioeconomic Indicators Before the Revolution: An International Comparison.” Unpublished Manuscript. University of Miami, 2009.
Locay, Luis, and Gonzalez, Rodolfo. “The Impact of the Revolution on Cuba's Health Indices.” Unpublished Manuscript. University of Miami, 2008.
Maddison, Angus. The World Economy: Historical Statistics. Paris: Development Center of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2007.
McGuire, James W., and Laura, B. Frankel. “Mortality Decline in Cuba, 1900–1959: Patterns, Comparisons, and Causes.” Latin American Research Review 40, no. 2 (2005): 83116.
Oshima, Harry. “A New Estimate of the National Income and Product of Cuba in 1953.” Food Research Institute Studies 2, no. 3 (1961): 213–27.
Perez, Louis. On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Pérez-López, Jorge F. “An Index of Cuban Industrial Output, 1930–58.” In Quantitative Latin American Studies: Methods and Findings. Supplement 6 of Statistical Abstract of Latin America, edited by Wilkie, James and Ruddle, K., 3772. Los Angeles: UCLA Latin American Center, 1977.
de la Escosura, Leandro Prados. “When Did Latin America Fall Behind?” In The Decline of Latin American Economies: Growth, Institutions, and Crises, edited by Edwards, Sebastian, Esquivel, Gerardo, and Márquez, Graciela, 1558. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.
Reinhart, Carmen, and Kenneth, S. Rogoff. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Rubio, Mar, Yanez, Cesar, Folchi, Mauricio, and Carreras, Albert. “Energy as an Indicator of Modernization in Latin America, 1890–1925. Economic History Review 63, no. 3 (2010): 769804.
Santamaria, Antonio. “El crecimiento económico de Cuba republicana (1902–1959). Una revisión y nuevas estimaciones en perspectiva comparada (población, inmigración golondrina, ingreso no azucarero y producto nacional bruto).” Revista de Indias 218 (2000): 505–45.
Santamaria, Antonio. “Las cuentas nacionales de Cuba, 1690–2005.” Madrid, 2005.
Sixto, Felipe. “An Evaluation of Four Decades of Cuban Healthcare.” In Cuba in Transition, XII Papers and Proceeds of ASCE, 2002.
Smith, Kirby, and Llorens, Hugo. “Renaissance and Decay: A Comparison of Socioeconomic Indicators in Pre-Castro and Current-Day Cuba.” Cuba in Transition 8, Papers and Proceeds of ASCE, 1998.
Speck, Mary“Closed-Door Imperialism: The Politics of Cuban-U.S. Trade, 1902–1922.” Hispanic American Historical Review 85, no. 3 (2005): 449–83.
Speck, Mary“Prosperity, Progress, and Wealth: Cuban Enterprise During the Early Republic, 1902–1927.” Cuban Studies 36 (2005): 5086.
Summers, Robert, and Heston, Alan. “The Penn World Tables (Mark 5): An Expanded Set of International Comparisons, 1950–1988.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 106, no. 2 (1991): 327–68.
Tafunell, Xavier, and Carreras, Albert. “La América Latina y el Caribe en 1913 y 1925: Enfoque desde las importaciones de bienes de capital.” Trimestre Económico LXXV, no. 3 (2008): 715–53.
Tafunell, Xavier. “On the Origins of ISI: The Latin American Cement Industry, 1900–30.” Journal of Latin American Studies 39, no. 2 (2007): 299328.
Tafunell, Xavier. “Capital Formation in Machinery in Latin America, 1890–1930.” The Journal of Economic History 69, no. 4 (2009): 928–50.
Thomas, Hugh. Cuba or the Pursuit of Freedom. Second edition. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998.
United Nations. Statistical Yearbook. New York, various issues.
United Nations. Trade Yearbook 1959. New York.
United States. Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 Washington, DC: GPO, 1975.
United States. Department of Commerce. Investment in Cuba. Washington, DC: GPO, 1956.
Wallich, Henry. Monetary Problems of an Export Economy: The Cuban Experience 1914–1947 Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1950.
Ward, Marianne, and Devereux, John. “Measuring British Decline: Direct Versus Long-Span Income Measures.” The Journal of Economic History 63, no. 3 (2003): 826–51.
World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) Report on Cuba. Washington: IBRD, 1951.
World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) World Tables. Third Edition. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 1993.
World Bank (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) Global Purchasing Power Parities and Real Expenditures. Washington, DC: World Bank, 2008.
Young, Alwyn. “The African Growth Miracle” Unpublished Manuscript. London School of Economics, 2010.
Zanetti, Oscar, and García, Alejandro. United Fruit Company: Un Caso del Dominio Imperialista en Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1976.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Economic History
  • ISSN: 0022-0507
  • EISSN: 1471-6372
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-economic-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Ward and Devereux supplementary material

 PDF (24 KB)
24 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed