Women, Fertility, and the Rise of Modern Capitalism

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Science  25 Oct 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6157, pp. 427-428
DOI: 10.1126/science.1246228

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The wealth of a nation is measured by its income per capita (total economic output/total population). The latter increases only if the numerator grows faster than the denominator. For most of human history, when the numerator grew, the denominator followed suit, leaving the ratio stable. Income per capita increased only for relatively brief periods and in specific places, and often fell, even dramatically. Two revolutions that occurred in Europe broke this state of immobility: the Malthusian revolution, spurred by the Black Death (or plague) in the Middle Ages, which slowed the growth of the denominator, and the industrial revolution, which sharply increased the growth of the numerator. The former event has been considered a precondition for the latter because it allowed per capita income to rise well above the subsistence level. This created a demand for goods and the accumulation of wealth and human capital. The outcome was a revolution in technologies that pulled away from traditional agriculture. Thus, this complex interaction of diverse factors spurred the birth of the modern economic era. This includes the impact of women in the workforce, as suggested in a recent study by Voigtländer and Voth (1).