European Historical Economics Society (EHES), s.l.
Earlier research on poverty failed to provide us with consistent measures of its prevalence across space and time. This is due to the limitations of the available sources and to the difficulty of applying to them the poverty definitions of modern social science. This article discusses different possible approaches to poverty measurement and the problems encountered when applying them to historical sources. Thereafter it proposes a way to measure absolute and, more importantly, relative poverty which makes good use of the information made available by recent research on inequality. We detect a long-run tendency towards an increase in the prevalence of poverty, both in the South and in the North of Europe. This trend was only temporarily interrupted by large-scale plague and other catastrophes, although the Black Death had stronger and more persistent poverty-reducing effects. Our approach, which this article applies mostly to Italy, the Low Countries and partially Germany and other areas, could be used for even broader international comparisons.
Poverty economic inequality social inequality wealthconcentration Middle Ages early modern period Italy Low Countries,Germany plague Black Death