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India, China and the African continent today are mostly associated with poverty in Europe, the US and so on. Looking at India specifically, did it during the medieval era share a similar standard of living to England (at the same point in time), and if so when did they start to diverge?

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Very broad question - and ultimately I think it recapitulates what we are calling the "Jared Diamond Question". I would recommend you revise the question to make it more precise. –  Mark C. Wallace Apr 24 at 12:49
Too broad because China, India and Africa had different prosperity levels, at different points in history, Africa is too diverse etc. Also European countries is too wide- again lot of variation there. –  Rajib Apr 24 at 13:33
Could this question be better off as several questions; such as "how did the living standards of China compare to Europe (or to be more specific, say England)?" and then one for india and another for Africa? It's sort of a big question and I am not sure how to chisel this down to the "golden nugget" if you will. –  user4557 Apr 24 at 13:43
You also need to specify a year; it doesn't make sense to compare the living standard of Wessex in 542 to the living standard of Rome in 1800 for example. –  Mark C. Wallace Apr 24 at 14:13
indeed, far too broad. The living standard in Cape Town today is far higher than it was in Liege in 1500, and far higher than it is in Abidjan today. –  jwenting Apr 24 at 15:08

4 Answers 4

This is partly covered in the article "India and the Great Divergence: An Anglo-Indian Comparison of GDP per Capita, 1600-1871" by Stephen Broadberry and Bishnupriya Gupta.

The article is available here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/pdf/Broadberry/IndianGDPpre1970v7.pdf . (Note that in-progress articles like this have a tendency to disappear from the web over time). The abstract of the article is:

This paper provides estimates of Indian GDP constructed from the output side for the pre-1871 period, and combines them with population estimates to track changes in living standards. Indian per capita GDP declined steadily during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries before stabilising during the nineteenth century. As British living standards increased from the mid-seventeenth century, India fell increasingly behind. Whereas in 1600, Indian per capita GDP was over 60 per cent of the British level, by 1871 it had fallen to less than 15 per cent. As well as placing the origins of the Great Divergence firmly in the early modern period, the estimates suggest a relatively prosperous India at the height of the Mughal Empire, with living standards well above bare bones subsistence.

The paper does perhaps not go as far back as you want to, but the literature section contains several references to other studies of living standards in India and Britain. I also suggest you have a look at Broadberry's home page (a very respected economic historian) for more information on related topics: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/whosWho/profiles/sbroadberry.aspx

Among these is a paper by the same authors from 2006: "The Early Modern Great Divergence: Wages, Prices and Economic Development in Europe and Asia, 1500-1800", Economic History Review, 59 (2006), 2-31. Abstract:

Contrary to the claims of Pomeranz, Parthasarathi, and other ‘world historians’, the prosperous parts of Asia between 1500 and 1800 look similar to the stagnating southern, central, and eastern parts of Europe rather than the developing north-western parts. In the advanced parts of India and China, grain wages were comparable to those in north-western Europe, but silver wages, which conferred purchasing power over tradable goods and services, were substantially lower. The high silver wages of north-western Europe were not simply a monetary phenomenon, but reflected high productivity in the tradable sector. The ‘great divergence’ between Europe and Asia was already well underway before 1800.

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I don't know if I agree with this. A servant in a Bombay in 1750 could make as much as 30 shillings a month, which is not a bad earning, even in comparison to a European. The idea that in 1800 all of a sudden India got a lot poorer, does not make sense. –  Tyler Durden Apr 24 at 20:50
@TylerDurden- I think he's saying exactly what you are saying. Only that study does not reach as far back in time. –  Rajib Apr 24 at 21:13

"Living Standards" require certain measures or standards. It is therefore very difficult to come to empirical conclusions. On what basis do we judge living standards?

However, if we consider Gross Domestic Product and Per Capita Gross Domestic Product, as well as wages in absolute terms, that is taking some particular year as a base (100) then a few studies show that while UK's Per capita GDP increased steadily from 1000 C.E., India's did not rise that much at all. By 1500 C.E. India was already lagging behind. This study is due to Angus Maddison. See this.

Another paper which provides several other indicators, also studies the period from 1600 C.E finds a steady decline in per capita GDP while UK's per capita increases steadily in the same period. See page 22, tables 12 and 13. For wages, see page 16, table 3. This paper also mentions several other source material as reference.

Another source which which studies economic history is "World Economic Historical Statistics" by Carlos Sabillon. This book details/charts the changes in GDP and sector-wise contributions (Manufacturing, Agriculture) from 16th century to the 1990s for all regions of the world.

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See this : Drain of Wealth


List of regions by past GDP (PPP)

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What is your understanding/interpretation of GDP(PPP)? –  Rajib Apr 26 at 18:42
Meaningless without dividing by population. –  Comintern Apr 27 at 2:50
If you look at the link you will see that these very dubious data were calculated by multiplying the assumed pro-capita income by the assumed population of the country in question. –  fdb Aug 23 at 11:56

This is really a broad question which probably should be closed, but I will take a stab at it.

First of all, it is hard to compare India to England because India is a much larger place. Comparing India to Europe might be a better comparison.

Many parts of India were probably better off than England between 400 A.D. and 1000 A.D. after that the Moghul invasions made India go downhill and meanwhile things were getting better gradually in England.

So, to pick a date, that would be about 1000 A.D. that was the turning point.

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Ironically the original question did exactly that, comparing India to Europe but was considered too broad. –  user4557 Apr 24 at 23:35

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