Measuring the Great Divergence

How did global living standards develop over the last 500 years?

Over the last 100 years, the world witnessed a significant reduction in poverty rates.

While the world is richer than ever, the historical path of reducing poverty in many regions of the world is unknown.

Moreover, the comparative development of living standards, as measured by real wages of both skilled and unskilled workers, is difficult to evaluate, especially for periods pre-1900.

Measuring the Great Divergence will analyse long-term living standards across urban locations in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, to assess changes and continuities in poverty, inequality, and enrichment from a global perspective.


The scholarly community will benefit from the development of the project, as the respective datasets will eventually be made available in open access.

It will thus open further avenues for understanding the causes of the comparative economic development of the last five centuries.

Our findings will generate interest in both central government agencies and municipal institutions in the fields of public history, memory, and legacy by providing a vast amount of new information on the economic legacy of slavery and other forms of forced labour and, consequently, our understanding of the origins of the 'Great Divergence'.


The project includes senior and early career academics working in the fields of economics, economic and social history, and global history.

  • Prof Nuno Palma, Principal Investigator - Prof Palma has published widely in economic history, economic growth and development, macroeconomics and monetary economics, and political economy.
  • Dr Hélder Carvalhal, Postdoctoral Research Associate - Dr Carvalhal's research focuses especially on global living standards, labour and occupational structures, and gender since 1500.


Banner image courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (Lisbon).