đź”®Sunday commentary: Pudding and meat

đź”®Sunday commentary: Pudding and meat

What is the relationship between the academy and economic outcomes? A recent paper in the peer-reviewed journal, The Journal of Education and Learning, explores this question through the lens of literacy rates in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.

That’s an interesting period: it encompassed the Dutch Golden Age, and signified the start of England’s transition from a stinky, poor backwater locale to an imperial titan. Eskelson points out that between 1500 and 1700, literacy rates in the Netherlands and England

experienced divergent growth from the rest of Western Europe due to the preceding establishment of more inclusive and efficient institutions. Such institutions allowed for a society with structures and rules that better integrated markets, led to the growth of towns and cities… and created better incentives for families to invest in formal education for their children.

In other words, the development of economic institutions preceded the development of educational ones. But more than that, the societal structures that favoured more transparent rules and market mechanisms encouraged people to invest in education.

Between 1500 and 1650, literacy rates in the Netherlands jumped from about 20% to 50% (and on to about 80% by 1700 – talk about exponential growth). In England, literacy rates bloomed from 5% to 50% between 1500 and 1650. In Germany and France, reading and writing reached 38% and 29% respectively in 1650, having started from a similar base to England’s.

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