Serfdom and Agricultural Efficiency: Evidence from the Russian Empire

Andrei Govorun (The Higher School of Economics)

Abstract: How did the institution of serfdom influence the agricultural performance of peasants? What form of rent was allowed to maximize the serfs’ efficiency? Our paper addresses these questions by comparing agricultural productivity in the provinces with the different contributions made by various categories of peasants. We operate with province-level data for 50 provinces of European Russia that covers the period from the 1800s to the 1880s. Our findings are the following. 1) Serfs demonstrated significantly lower efficiency than state peasants and free people. The last two categories of peasants farmed producing about double the yield of serfs. 2) The form of rent significantly affected serf productivity. However, the evidence that we provide is not conclusive because of the possibility of reversed causality problem that is not solved yet. 3) The effect of serfdom lasted for a considerable time after the implementation of the Emancipation reforms.

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