Research Seminar: Land Quality


Tuesday, June 7, 2022, 10:15am to 11:30am


R-304 & Zoom (registration information below)

The Growth Lab Research Seminar series is a weekly seminar that brings together researchers from across the academic spectrum who share an interest in growth and development.

Speaker: David N. Weil, James and Merryl Tisch Professor of Economics at Brown University

Abstract: We develop a new measure of land quality by estimating weights in a Poisson regression of population in grid cells on a vector of geographic characteristics and country fixed effects. Aggregating to the level of countries, we construct average land quality (ALQ) and quality-adjusted population density (QAPD). We establish several novel facts. First, current income per capita is positively correlated with ALQ. Second, while income today is unrelated to conventional population density, it is strongly negatively related to QAPD. Third, this negative relationship was not present in 1820 and emerged because today’s lower income countries have experienced faster population growth since then. Fourth, countries with higher average land quality began sustained modern economic growth earlier, and this earlier takeoff largely explains the ALQ-modern income relationship. We posit a framework in which higher land quality led to denser populations in Malthusian equilibrium and, via agglomeration effects, an earlier takeoff from that equilibrium. Less dense countries that took off later experienced larger multiplications of their populations over the course of the demographic transition due to the import of health technologies from countries that took off first.

Paper co-authored with J. Vernon Henderson and Adam Storeygard

Whether attending in-person or over Zoom, please register in advance. Room attendance in R-304 is limited to the Harvard community only. Contact Chuck McKenney with any questions.

About the speaker:

David N. Weil is James and Merryl Tisch Professor of Economics at Brown University, director of the James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Wealth and Income Inequality Project at Brown, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Weil has written widely on various aspects of economic growth, including the empirical determinants of income variation among countries, the contribution of health improvements to growth, the geographic determinants of development, the measurement of income inequality, the accumulation of physical capital, international technology transfer, population growth, and the use of satellite observation as a measurement tool. His textbook on growth has been translated into six languages. He has also written on assorted topics in demographic and health economics including the economic impacts of malaria and salt iodization, population aging, Social Security, the gender wage gap, retirement, and the relationship between demographics and house prices. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1990.