Colonialism, Inequality, and Long-Run Paths of Development

Stanley L. Engerman and Kenneth L. Sokoloff

in Understanding Poverty

Published in print May 2006 | ISBN: 9780195305197
Published online September 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780199783519 | DOI:
 Colonialism, Inequality, and Long-Run Paths of Development

Show Summary Details


This essay explores the hypothesis that extreme differences in inequality across European colonies in the Americas gave rise to systematic differences in the ways institutions evolved, and in turn, on the paths of development. European colonization altered the composition of the populations in the colonized societies. Because colonization generally meant implanting communities that were greatly advantaged over natives in terms of human capital and legal status, and because the trajectories of institutional development were sensitive to the incidence of extreme inequality that often followed, European colonial activity had long, lingering effects. Colonies in the Americas with extreme inequality, compared with those with relative equality, were systematically more likely to evolve institutions that restricted access to economic opportunities and to generate lower rates of public investment in schools and other infrastructure considered conducive to growth. These patterns of institutional development, which tend to persist over time in economic performance, may help explain why many societies that began with extreme inequality continue to suffer from the same condition.

Keywords: European colonization; colonies; Americas; economic development; suffrage; education

Chapter.  10712 words. 

Subjects: Economic Development and Growth

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.