The European Origins of Economic Development

DRI Working Paper No. 104
By William Easterly and Ross Levine

 Although a large literature argues that European settlement outside of Europe during colonization had an enduring effect on economic development, researchers have been unable to assess these predictions directly because of an absence of data on colonial European settlement. We construct a new database on the European share of the population during colonization and examine its association with economic development today. We find a strong, positive relation between current income per capita and colonial European settlement that is robust to controlling for the current proportion of the population of European descent, as well as many other country characteristics. The results suggest that any adverse effects of extractive institutions associated with small European settlements were, even at low levels of colonial European settlement, more than offset by other things that Europeans brought, such as human capital and technology.