My research focuses primarily on the long run economic development of Japan, using a quantitative and comparative approach.
This paper shows how wealth inequality was lower in East Asia than Western Europe over the very long-run, 1300-2000. A rich new dataset of village censuses in Japan, 1640-1870, and secondary evidence suggest Gini coefficients of wealth inequality in the East were 0.4-0.5 relative to 0.7-0.9 in the West preceding industrialization. Such regional patterns also precede the black death so any explanation must predate this. I propose the demographic institution of adoption as one such explanation. Adoption prevented the failure of male lines through which wealth was inherited. Adoption was practiced across Eurasia until the 5th century when the church began preaching against it. This increased household extinctions in Europe causing wealth concentration among surviving male lines. In contrast, the Japanese data suggest adoption prevented household extinctions and kept wealth in the family. Simulations show that this mechanism can explain much of the gap in regional wealth inequality.
I use new evidence from servant contracts, 1610-1932, 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.
Despite its sophistication, Early Modern Japan, 1600-1868 had among the lowest real wage levels ever recorded, 40% of those in pre-industrial England. This paper shows that this puzzle can be partly resolved if we take into account the greater equality of land-holdings in pre-industrial Japan than in Europe. In England by 1700, 70% of the rural population were landless but in Japan only 13%. Paradoxically, as I show theoretically, in the Malthusian demographic regime of the pre-industrial world greater equality should generate lower living standards. I show empirically that landless families in Japan were unable to reproduce demographically. Had most households been landless, as in Europe, the population would have been unsustainable without higher wages. If, as many historians believe, high wages and living standards in western Europe explain the onset of the Industrial Revolution, then Japan’s failure to industrialize could have been shaped by its unusual pre-industrial equality.
The Benefit of Shocks? Risk and Living Standards in Early Modern Japan, 1600-1868