African Real Wages in Asian Perspective, 1880-1940


This paper offers time-series of urban unskilled labor wages and commodity prices in eight British African colonies (1880-1940) and shows that real wages were above subsistence level and rising, especially during the interwar years. Real wages in West Africa and Mauritius were even considerably higher than in some major Asian cities. Our results cast doubt on studies emphasizing the existence of ‘structural impediments’ to African economic growth. We also document an East-West divergence within Africa and argue this was caused by variations in colonial land and labor market institutions, challenging the view that African colonial institutions were exclusively extractive.

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