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Demographic Change and Development: Three Hundred Years of Crowdsourced Historical Data in Europe (February 2020)
Abstract This paper uses an individual-level historical dataset crowdsourced from publicly available genealogies to study demographic change and development in the past. We present and clean the dataset, merge it with European administrative subdivisions and historical data on urbanization, and reconstruct a measure of fertility otherwise unavailable before the 1830s. We carefully show that selection is limited and that the sample is representative at the country level on and after the late seventeenth century. We then document stylized facts on mortality, human mobility, and fertility in Europe in a period without census, with millions of observations in thirty countries. Finally, we present several novel empirical findings on these dimensions at a disaggregated level and document that cultural changes following the Age of Enlightenment likely played an important role in the transition from stagnation to growth. For example, urban elites became increasingly mobile in the eighteenth century, before the rural flight turned urbanization into motion. We also show that norms of limited fertility spread in France in the 1750s, indicating a role for cultural and secular forces. Last but not least, we document a sharp increase in intergenerational mobility in the second half of the eighteenth century, suggesting that cultural and distributional changes foreshadowed aggregate welfare gains.