DP13523 | Pandemics, Places, and Populations: Evidence from the Black Death

Publication Date

02/12/2019

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Abstract

The Black Death killed 40% of Europe’s population between 1347-1352, making it one of the largest shocks in history. Despite its importance, little is known about its spatial effects and the effects of pandemics more generally. Using a novel dataset that provides information on spatial variation in Plague mortality at the city level, as well as various identification strategies, we explore the short-run and long-run impacts of the Black Death on city growth. On average, cities recovered their pre-Plague populations within two centuries. In addition, aggregate convergence masked heterogeneity in urban recovery. We show that both of these facts are consistent with a Malthusian model in which population returns to high-mortality locations endowed with more rural and urban fixed factors of production. Land suitability and natural and historical trade networks played a vital role in urban recovery. Our study highlights the role played by pandemics in determining both the sizes and placements of populations.