Income and its distribution in preindustrial Poland

Mikołaj Malinowski, Jan Luiten van Zanden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article presents per capita GDP and income distribution estimates for preindustrial Poland. It is based on a social table for the Voivodeship of Cracow in 1578. Our evidence indicates that income in Poland was distributed more equally than in contemporary Holland. However, the extraction rate was much higher than in the North Sea area. Furthermore, income inequality in the countryside of the Voivodeship was higher than inequality in Cracow. This can be explained by the demesne economy based on serfdom that was prevalent in agriculture. Using trends in real wages and urbanisation, we also project Polish GDP forwards and backwards in time. Our results indicate that Polish per capita GDP was below that of Western Europe as early as the fifteenth century. This gap persisted despite moderate growth of the Polish economy in the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century, Poland impoverished and became even poorer than Asian economies for which similar estimates are available. Poland recovered slightly in the eighteenth century but continued to lag behind Western Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)375–404
Number of pages30
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017


  • Income inequality
  • Long-term economic growth
  • GDP
  • Poland
  • Serfdom


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