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Coal and the European Industrial Revolution

Alan Fernihough and Kevin O'Rourke ()

No 9819, CEPR Discussion Papers from C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers

Abstract: We examine the importance of geographical proximity to coal as a factor underpinning comparative European economic development during the Industrial Revolution. Our analysis exploits geographical variation in city and coalfield locations, alongside temporal variation in the availability of coal-powered technologies, to quantify the effect of coal availability on historic city population sizes. Since we suspect that our coal measure could be endogenous, we use a geologically derived measure as an instrumental variable: proximity to rock strata from the Carboniferous era. Consistent with traditional historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution, we find that coal had a strong influence on city population size from 1800 onward. Counterfactual estimates of city population sizes indicate that our estimated coal effect explains at least 60% of the growth in European city populations from 1750 to 1900. This result is robust to a number of alternative modelling assumptions regarding missing historical population data, spatially lagged effects, and the exclusion of the United Kingdom from the estimation sample.

Keywords: Coal; Geography; Historical Population; Industrial Revolution (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J10 N13 N53 O13 O14 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-geo and nep-his
Date: 2014-02
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