My research focuses primarily on the long run economic development of Japan, using a quantitative and comparative approach.

Accepted Papers

I use new evidence from servant contracts, 1610-1890, to estimate male farm wages and the length of the work year in Japan. I show Japanese laborers were surprisingly poor and could only sustain 2-3 adults relative to 7 adults for the English. Japanese wages were the lowest among pre-industrial societies and this was driven by Malthusian population pressures. I also estimate the work year and find peasants worked 325 days a year by 1700, predating the “industrious” revolution in Europe. The findings imply Japan had a distinct labor-intensive path to industrialization, utilizing cheap labor over a long work year. Link to Paper

Malthus predicted that fertility rises with income and that people regulate fertility via regulating marriage. However, evidence on the pre-industrial Malthusian equilibrium has been mostly confined to Europe and East Asia. We employ Egypt's population censuses in 1848 and 1868 to provide the first evidence on the pre-industrial Malthusian dynamics in the Middle East and North Africa. At the aggregate level, we document rural Egyptian women having a high fertility rate that is close to the Western European level, combined with low age at marriage and low celibacy rate, that are closer to the East Asian levels. This resulted in a uniquely high fertility regime that probably contributed to the region’s lower wages. Next, we provide individual-level evidence on the positive correlation between fertility and income (occupation). We find that the higher fertility of Egyptian white-collar men is attributed to the extensive margin of fertility, and not to marital fertility differentials or differences in female slave ownership. Specifically, white-collar men's higher polygyny rate explains 70% of their fertility advantage, whereas their higher marriage rate and lower wife's age at marriage explain 30%, suggesting that the polygyny institution led to a steeper income-fertility curve than in Western Europe.

This paper uses Japanese village censuses, 1637-1872, to measure inequality in landownership. Surprisingly, inequality was low and stable unlike Europe where it was high and increasing. To explain this, I study inter-generational land transmissions. I find that Japanese households without sons adopted male heirs, thereby keeping lands in the family. In contrast, elite English male lines failed 25% of the time as adoptions were uncommon, leading to a highly unequal redistribution of their lands. Finally, the institutional differences in adoption had roots in 4th century church policy and this may partially explain why Europe was more unequal by 1800. Download Paper

Working Papers

Despite its sophistication, Early Modern Japan, 1600-1868, had among the lowest real wage levels ever recorded, half of those in pre-industrial England. This paper resolves this puzzle by considering the more equal landownership distribution in Japan relative to Europe. Due to institutional differences in land transmission, most of the rural population were landless in England but only 16% in Japan circa 1800. Using a Malthusian model, I show landownership equality in Japan paradoxically generated lower wages and GDP per capita. This is due to the concavity in the positive income-fertility curve resulting in greater equality generating greater population pressures. I provide evidence of the mechanism at the cross-country level and at the individual level using Japanese village censuses. If, as many historians believe, high wages in western Europe explain the onset of the Industrial Revolution, then Japan’s failure to industrialize first could have been shaped by its unusual pre-industrial equality. Download Paper

This paper uses data from the parliamentary enclosure acts, 1720-1868, to estimate rural land inequality. Inclusive of the landless, I find gini coefficients ranged from 0.65-0.82 while the landless typically composed 40-50% of the population. Despite these regions being the most equal within England at the time, their inequality was similar to typical villages in contemporary Italy and less equal than those in Germany or Japan. This confirms that the commons, most of which were enclosed by the 19th century, were already highly unequal. It also shows rural England was among the most unequal regions in contemporary Western Europe. Download Paper

Using new evidence from servant contracts, 1600-1890, we estimate women’s wages in Japan. Women’s wages could only sustain 1.5-2 people up to 1900, the lowest recorded in the pre-industrial world. We then show the gender wage ratio was 0.7, higher than in Western Europe. Despite this, Japan had lower female empowerment for two reasons. First, absolute wages were low, so women were not economically autonomous. Second, landownership incomes were mostly earned by men, raising their bargaining positions. The low female empowerment in Japan could explain the early and universal marriage of its women unlike their empowered Western European counterparts. Download Paper

Gender differences in labor opportunities can accentuate urban-rural wage gaps if laborers are married and must co-move. We study the effects of a silk boom which increased demand for silk cocoons, predominantly produced by women in farms, on migration in Japan, 1910-1920. We use large variation in silk cocoon prices, due to its perishability, and an IV approach to show areas with higher prices experienced lower migration among men and women. Men’s wages declined in high price areas but they remained to maximize household incomes. These findings show that gender divisions of labor can slow down industrialization. Download Paper

Works in progress

The Benefit of Shocks? Risk and Living Standards in Early Modern Japan, 1600-1868

Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Egypt with Mohamed Saleh and Paul Puschmann

``Who Owned Land in Feudal Japan?'' with Kazuho Sakai and Masanori Takashima

Prostitution in Tokugawa Japan with Kazuho Sakai