posted October 2, 2009, at 9:20 a.m.
Potatoes and European Economic Development. Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian have a new paper on how potatoes influenced nutrition, demographics, and economic development in Europe.
"Our study contributes to the debate by providing causal estimates of the impact of improved nutrition on population growth. We estimate the effect of improved nutrition caused by the large increase in availability of calories and nutrients that followed the introduction of the potato from the NewWorld to the OldWorld. … Our estimation exploits the introduction of the potato to the Old World following the discovery of the Americas. This event, together with geographic and climatic variation in a country’s ability to cultivate and adopt the new food crop, provides a source of variation in nutrition that is plausibly exogenous to other factors that affect population growth. Because potatoes are superior to existing crops in terms of both calories and nutrition, we proxy for access to improved nutrition with the amount of land that is suitable for cultivating potatoes. … Our results show that Old World regions that were suitable for potato cultivation experienced disproportionately faster population and urbanization growth after the introduction of potatoes. …[O]ur baseline estimates suggest that the potato accounts for 12% of the increase in population, 22% of the increase in population growth, 47% of the increase in urbanization, and 50% of the increase in urbanization growth."
posted October 2, 2009 at 9:20 a.m