GDP per capita since 1820

Jutta Bolt, Marcel Timmer, Jan Luiten van Zanden

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Since 1820, the world economy experienced spectacular growth in output and income. This chapter builds upon the work by Angus Maddison and shows that the world’s average GDP per capita increased by a factor of 10 between 1820 and the 2010. Yet, this growth was spread very unevenly, resulting in a considerable increase in average income disparities between countries. In 1820, the richest countries were about five times as wealthy as the poorest countries, whereas they were more than thirty times as well-off in 1950. This divergence was driven by a process of rapid industrialisation. Only recently, as a result of the rapid growth experienced by China and India, has global income inequality begun to decline. The chapter discusses the strong and weak spots in our current knowledge on historical GDP series and points to areas for future research.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHow Was Life?
Subtitle of host publicationGlobal Well-being since 1820
EditorsJan Luiten van Zanden, Joerg Baten, Marco Mira d'Ercole, Auke Rijpma, Conal Smith, Marcel Timmer
PublisherOECD Publishing
ISBN (Electronic)9789264214262
ISBN (Print)9789264214064
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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