The Frontal Cortex

Via Joel Waldfogel:

James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote, both of Dartmouth College, consider the effect of a particular aspect of history–the length of European colonization–on the current standard of living of a group of 80 tiny, isolated islands that have not previously been used in cross-country comparisons. Their question: Are the islands that experienced European colonization for a longer period of time richer today?

Mitiaro, Pohnpei, and Aitutaki are small islands in the Pacific that were colonized by European explorers at different times. They, and 77 other islands in the Atlantic, Pacific, and elsewhere, constitute the data the authors use in their study. Scholars who have made cross-country comparisons before have ignored these islands. Europeans “discovered” some of these places by accident. Pitcairn Island was colonized when the crew of the HMS Bounty staged a mutiny after an arduous trip to Tahiti under Capt. William Bligh. Explorers encountered Penrhyn, in the Cook Islands, after storms wrecked their vessels on its shores.

Feyrer and Sacedote’s key findings are that the longer one of the islands spent as a colony, the higher its present-day living standards and the lower its infant mortality rate. Each additional century of European colonization is associated with a 40 percent boost in income today and a reduction in infant mortality of 2.6 deaths per 1,000 births.


  1. #1 ebohlman
    October 21, 2006

    The first thought that sprang to my mind was that the islands that colonists considered the most desirable had geographical/cultural properties that were also associated with long-term prosperity.

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