States, Institutions, and Literacy Rates in Early-Modern Western Europe

  •  Tyrel C. Eskelson    


The purpose of the paper is to develop the theory that structural or procedural changes in institutions precede changes in education in a society. It examines the development of pre-modern institutions in Western Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries and the influences this had on growth in literacy rates within these states. Literacy rates in Western European countries during the Middle Ages were below twenty percent of the population. For most countries, literacy rates did not experience significant increases until the Enlightenment and industrialization. Two early exceptions to this broad trend were the Netherlands and England, which had achieved literacy rates above fifty percent of their populations by the mid-seventeenth century. The explanations for these divergent trends are the structural changes in formal institutions that embodied capital markets, protected private property, and overall established the initial steps in developing modern political institutions. This created incentives to invest more in schools per capita as well as incentives for a middle class to invest more in literacy and numeracy skills for a market-exchange economy that was becoming more specialized in division of labor.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1927-5250
  • ISSN(Online): 1927-5269
  • Started: 2012
  • Frequency: bimonthly

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