Infant mortality and the role of seigneurial tenure in Canada East, 1851

Alongside Alex Arsenault Morin and Vadim Kufenko, I have a new working paper on the issue of infant mortality in Canada East (modern-day Quebec). I argue that the institutional system of land tenure was an important determinant of differences in infant mortality. Areas settled under French laws (known as seigneurial law) implied important transfers from peasants to landlords through private taxes and duties, restrictions on mobility, scant provision of public goods and disincentives to invest in agricultural productivity. As a result, areas under this law system tended to be poor and prone to high mortality. Upon conquering Quebec, the British maintained French land laws but, in 1791, the boundaries of its application were frozen – all new settled lands would be settled under British land tenure laws. By 1851, the two legal systems had cohabited for six decades – allowing us to compare them. Using the 1851 census, we argue that French seigneurial law – which reduced living standards through a variety of channels – translated into higher rates of infant mortality. After estimating a Zero-inflated Negative Binomial Regression we find that the effect of seigneurial tenure results in an increase in infant death rates from 43.79 to 44.89 for the age group below one and from 5.21 to 5.277 for the age group from one to five.

The paper can be consulted here 

Heights of French-Canadians after the conquest

In the weeks to come, Vadim Kufenko, Alex Arsenault Morin and myself will spend time trying to edit, improve and finalize our paper on the heights of the French-Canadians in Quebec between 1760 and 1830 based on prison registry data.

Basically, the work that remains to be done is to improve the presentation of the paper and the way our arguments are brought forward. However, the results are ready and they will not change.  The draft is available here for those who are interested (but, please, this is a preliminary version, do not quote it yet). 

What we see is that the French-Canadians in Quebec were significantly shorter than the English, Irish and Scots who came to Quebec. In addition, we see that stature is falling throughout the period but before heights in the United States (during the Antebellum puzzle) begin to plummet. Furthermore, heights in Canada seem to inch upward as those in the United States start to fall.

I have the two key figures here. The first is based on our data, the second is based on linking our data with the data produced by Cranfield and Inwood (2007) based on the Kingston Penitentiary between 1825 and 1874. The height differential between French-Canadians and other groups is clear, no ambiguity about it.

Figure 1

Figure 3

Malthusian pressures in Lower Canada (now published)

My article on Malthusian pressures in Canada has now been published in the Journal of Population Research (co-written with Vadim Kufenko of the University of Hohenheim).

The paper can be consulted here (open access I believe) and can be quoted as such:

Geloso, Vincent and Vadim Kufenko. 2015. “Malthusian pressures: Empirical evidence from a frontier economy”, Journal of Population Research, Vol.32, no.3, pp.263-283.

The cost of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution

In my archives, I found an old article I published in the Financial Post back in 2012. It mentions the cost of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution which was heavily subsidized by federal transfers and its foundations were set before 1960 (unlike the common narrative).

Canada paid for Quebec’s Quiet Revolution

Vincent Geloso

The author is a PhD candidate in Economic History at the London School of Economics (LSE) in London, England.


On June 22nd of this year, Quebec celebrated the 52nd anniversary of the 1960 election that marked the beginning of its “Quiet Revolution” – a period marked by rapid modernization and the elaboration of a modern welfare state.  Quebeckers feel pride at the mention of this period of their history and rightfully so since they were not known anymore as the “priest-ridden” province. In the current election in Quebec, this “landmark” date is hailed on all sides of the political spectrum to make their respective cases. However, few are those in Quebec who will point out the extent to which the rest of Canada contributed to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.

Between 1945 and 1955, the federal government opted to reduce its transfers to Quebec. Indeed, federal transfers to Quebec fell from 101$ per person in 1945 to 37$ in 1955. Relative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), federal transfers fell from 1.1% to 0.3%. During that period, the provincial government opted to keep its spending under control at around 5.3% of GDP. Its total revenues also stayed stable at 5.5% of GDP. Each time the province ran a deficit, it compensated by a much larger surplus in following years, so that the debt burden adjusted for inflation fell from 1,245$ per person in 1945 to 679$ in 1955. In this era of fiscal discipline, the provincial government opened up the economy to foreign investors and turned the province into one of Canada’s most fiscally competitive provinces. This was quite impressive especially when contrasted to the pre-war period when expenditures rose to 8.95% of GDP in 1938, the highest point it would reach before 1961.

However, this would begin to change in the mid-1950s as federal transfers began to rise. During the 1950s the federal government began to multiply its interventions in the domain of welfare by attempting to fund numerous social programs for the provinces. This drive to insure an equal basket of public services to Canadians – regardless of the fiscal capacity of the province they resided in – led to the creation of numerous federal transfers and ultimately to the equalization program. In spite of its virulent opposition to federal intrusion in areas of social welfare, the province of Quebec did benefit from a huge surge in federal transfers of all sorts. By 1960, federal transfers per person adjusted for inflation had risen to 172$ or 1.5% of GDP.

Throwing fiscal discipline through the window, the provincial government embarked on a spending binge. Between 1955 and 1960, real expenditures per person increased by 51% (to 8.3% of GDP). In fact, 62% of the increase in spending per person for healthcare and education between 1945 and 1960 took place after 1955.

Autonomous revenues– revenues that did not come from federal sources – did not rise during this period. Relative to GDP, the tax burden imposed by the provincial government virtually did not rise between 1955 and 1960 and stayed close to a 5.6% share of GDP.

Some argue that the foundations of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution were laid during the 1950s. Indeed, the vast surge of government spending between 1955 and 1960 for education, health care and social welfare became the foundation upon which Quebec’s modern welfare state would be built. What has been less emphasized in Quebec is how important federal transfers have been in funding those foundations.

The additional layers that were to be attached to Quebec’s welfare state in the 1960s were also funded in large part by other Canadian taxpayers. After 1960, federal transfers to Quebec kept rising without any limit. By 1969, real transfers per person had risen to 581$ or 3.4% of GDP. In that same year, real spending per person reached 2,726$ or 15.9% of GDP. This was the result of Quebec’s drive to build a modern welfare state (both corporate and individual).

In spite of numerous tax increases in Quebec, Canadian taxpayers had to pay a growing share of Quebec’s welfare state. In 1955, they had to fork out a mere 5.6% of Quebec’s revenues. In 1960 and 1969, 20.3% and 22.7% respectively of Quebec’s revenues came from Canadian taxpayers. According to a different data set from Quebec’s department of finances, that share had grown to 26.4% by the first year of the Parti Québécois’ stay in office.

Economically, Quebec has lagged behind the richest parts of Canada for many decades. Hence, its tax base is smaller, but its welfare programs have been amongst the most generous in Canada, since the 1960s. On its own, Quebec would never have been able to construct such a large welfare state. Thanks to federal transfers, Quebec has been able to live beyond its means for decades and that is not a 52nd anniversary gift to be proud of.