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Economically relevant human capital or multi-purpose consumption good? Book ownership in pre-modern Württemberg

Sheilagh Ogilvie, Jeremy Edwards and Markus Küpker

Explorations in Economic History, 2022, vol. 83, issue C

Abstract: We investigate books as an indicator of human capital using extraordinary, individual-level data on book ownership and signature literacy for a population of German women and men between 1610 and 1900. Although book ownership was very high from an early date, it was associated with signature literacy, gender, urbanization, and wealth in ways inconsistent with its having registered economically relevant human capital. The books people owned were overwhelmingly religious, as elsewhere in pre-modern Europe. People consumed books for multifarious purposes, many of them non-economic. In this pre-modern economy, books were not a good indicator of economically relevant human capital for the population at large, which creates doubt about their use for this purpose more generally.

Date: 2022
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Working Paper: Economically Relevant Human Capital or Multi-Purpose Consumption Good? Book Ownership in Pre-Modern Württemberg (2016) Downloads
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DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2021.101418

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