DP9991 | Impoverished, but Numerate? Early Numeracy in East Asia (1550?1800) and its Impact on 20th and 21st Century Economic Growth

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This paper first draws on a unique data set, hojok (household registers), to estimate numeracy levels in Korea from the period 1550?1630. We add evidence from Japan and China from the early modern period until 1800 to obtain a human capital estimate for East Asia. We find that numeracy was high by global standards, even considering the potential sources of upward bias inherent in the data. Therefore, the unusually high level of numeracy in East Asia in the early 21st century was already present in the early modern period. However, East Asia had low national income levels during the 19th and early 20th centuries. We assess this phenomenon in the last section and find that ?Impoverished Numerates?, i.e., countries that were poor despite high early numerical human capital formation, had substantially higher growth rates during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.