Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Historical Danish National Accounts, 1750-1895
Paul Sharp, Ingrid Henriksen, Peter Sandholt Jensen

Last modified: 2014-05-19


This project will construct national accounts for Denmark for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries until 1895 using data collected from available archives and other materials. Following the lead of similar projects around Europe (for example for Britain by Broadberry et al 2011) the end result will be real and nominal GDP, divided into agriculture, industry, and services. Moreover, the process of constructing these data will lead to the systematization of preexisting information and the uncovering of a wealth of other underlying data, which will also be made available. Previous attempts have been made to construct national accounts for Denmark for the nineteenth century, but it is only from 1896 that reliable and well-documented estimates are available (Larsen, Larsen and Nilsson 2011), although only for agriculture and industry. Previous work by Bjerke and Ussing (1958) goes back to 1870 (for the two categories agriculture and all other trades), and Hansen (1984) pushed the data even further back, to 1818. The problem with Hansen’s data for most of the nineteenth century is the sparse documentation on how these data were constructed. Hyldtoft (1995) summarizes the critique and adds that it should, however, be possible to go back to 1750 for Denmark. The proposed database will be important for future research within several fields of economics. As it stands, we have no way of understanding Denmark’s growth experience during the critical phase of ‘take-off’ and demographic transition in the late nineteenth century. Also, by going back before industrialization, we will be able to invoke the Danish experience when attempting to answer some of the big questions within macroeconomics today, such as whether there was persistent economic growth in preindustrial times. The quantification of other aspects of Danish economic history, such as the effects of the agrarian reforms of the late eighteenth century, will also become possible. In general, longer time series for Danish economic performance would fuel further research in areas such as economic growth and development (Dalgaard 2010) and public choice (Aidt and Jensen 2009). Moreover, this data will be of considerable international interest, and will better allow Denmark to figure in comparative and cross sectional work. To illustrate the potential interest in this, Hansen’s (1984) data have, in spite of the criticism, been used by others in cross-national datasets, such as Maddison (2003) who even made guesstimates for Danish GDP per capita in 1500, 1600, and 1700. We believe that it is time for Denmark to have reliable historical national accounts on a par with those from other countries.