Seeds of divergence: living standards in French North America, 1688 to 1760

This paper, which has been in the making for the last three years, is the most important of all my papers. It capitalizes on a new dataset of prices and wages collected from religious congregations to link with censuses of the French colony of Quebec from 1688 to 1760 in order to measure real wages and incomes.  The aim is to create a measure of living standards for this colony while it was under French rule and compare with the American colonies to the south, the mother country of France and Great Britain. This would be the first estimate of Canadian living standards prior to the mid-19th century. These results are relevant to studying divergence across the Americas and Europe and to Canadian historians who strive to make sense of the importance of the conquest of Quebec by the British in 1760 by supplying an estimate of living standards before the conquest. Using the standardized real wages approach expressed as welfare ratios (Allen 2001; Allen et al. 2012) to a basket of goods, we find that there was very little growth between 1688 and 1760. At the bare bones level (poor diet, few luxuries and few manufactured goods), the French colonists in the New World were slightly richer than their counterparts in France. They were poorer than the British inhabitants (using southern England wages) and considerably poorer than the American colonists. Switching to a more respectable basket of goods, the gap with England and the American colonies widens considerably while the advantage relative to France vanishes to be transformed into a small negative gap.

The paper can be read in full here at ACADEMIA

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