Coal and the European Industrial Revolution

60 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2014 Last revised: 11 Aug 2021

See all articles by Alan Fernihough

Alan Fernihough

University College Dublin (UCD) - Geary Institute and Department of Economics

Kevin O'Rourke

University of Oxford

Date Written: January 2014

Abstract

We examine the importance of geographical proximity to coal as a factor underpinning comparative European economic development during the Industrial Revolution. Our analysis exploits geographical variation in city and coalfield locations, alongside temporal variation in the availability of coal-powered technologies, to quantify the effect of coal availability on historical city population sizes. Since we suspect that our coal measure could be endogenous, we use a geologically derived measure as an instrumental variable: proximity to rock strata from the Carboniferous era. Consistent with traditional historical accounts of the Industrial Revolution, we find that coal had a strong influence on city population size from 1800 onward. Counterfactual estimates of city population sizes indicate that our estimated coal effect explains around 60% of the growth in European city populations from 1750 to 1900. This result is robust to a number of alternative modelling assumptions.

Suggested Citation

Fernihough, Alan and O'Rourke, Kevin, Coal and the European Industrial Revolution (January 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w19802, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2380434

Alan Fernihough (Contact Author)

University College Dublin (UCD) - Geary Institute and Department of Economics ( email )

University College Dublin
Belfield, Dublin Dublin 4
Ireland

Kevin O'Rourke

University of Oxford ( email )

Mansfield Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 4AU
United Kingdom

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