Medieval Brits may have had it better than poorest today

Dec. 21, 2010 at 8:54 AM ET

When we think of medieval times we don’t exactly think of prosperity.

But new research finds that the medieval Brits may not have been so bad off financially – and may have been better off than residents of some of the poorest nations today.

Economists at the University of Warwick found that per capita income in England during the late Middle Ages was likely around $1,000 in 1990 dollars.

That’s far higher than the previous per capita income estimate of around $400, which is considered to be enough for a bare bones existence.

It also means that the medieval Brits were actually better off than people living today in nations including Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Haiti.

“Our work sheds new light on England’s economic past, revealing that per capita incomes in medieval England were substantially higher than the ‘bare bones subsistence’ levels experienced by people living in poor countries in our modern world,” Stephen Broadberry, the University of Warwick economist who lead the research, said in a statement.

Broadberry said that by the late Middle Ages, English people were able to afford the occasional luxury, and a diet that included meat, dairy, produce and ale.  

For a full copy of the paper, called British Economic Growth 1270-1870, click here.

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