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Pre-Independence Spanish Americans: Poor, Short and Unequal… or the Opposite?

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Article of journalDobado-González, Rafael. (Univ. Complutense de Madrid, Dep. Historia e Instituciones Económicas II, España). Pre-Independence Spanish Americans: Poor, Short and Unequal… or the Opposite?.  / Los hispanoamericanos antes de la independencia: ¿pobres, bajos y desiguales ... o lo contrario? Revista de Historia Económica. Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History, 2015 vol. 33 no. 1 p. 15-59. Keywords:
Latin America
Niveles de vida; salarios reales; América Latina; Edad Moderna
Colonial period


This paper attempts to establish a debate between alternative views of living standards in Spanish America during the viceregal period. Since 2009, a growing literature has shared a «common language» based on a similar, though not identical, methodology. As never before, this «new generation» of studies is built upon long series of quantitative data and international comparisons of nominal wages and prices which, in some cases, cover the whole Early Modern Era. Part of this literature also complements the examination of economic welfare using height as an indicator of biological welfare. Inequality is also quantitatively approached in one of the works discussed. In spite of significant similarities, some methodological differences lead to contrasting results. For the sake of simplicity, the relevant literature is divided into two views: «pessimism» and «optimism». It is my contention that the latter is more consistent with the available evidence.

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