Killer cities and industrious cities? New data and evidence on 250 years of urban growth

In the historical literature, cities of the Industrial Revolution (IR) are portrayed as having a demographic penalty: killer cities with high death rates and industrious cities with low birth rates. To econometrically test this, we construct a novel data set of almost 2000 crude demographic rates for 142 large cities in 35 countries for 1700–1950. Mortality actually decreased faster than fertility during the IR era and rates of natural increase rose in the cities of industrializing countries, especially large cities. This implies a declining, not rising, demographic penalty thanks to the IR. To explain the puzzle, we posit that negative health and industriousness effects of industrial urbanization might have been outweighed by positive effects of increased income and life expectancy.


Marina Gindelsky and Remi Jedwab

JEL Code(s) J10 N10 N30 N90 R00 Published