Monday, May 16, 2022

When did Europe pull ahead?


Medieval market – Nicole Oresme (15th century) (Wikicommons)


In terms of GDP per capita growth, northwest Europe began to surpass the rest of the world during the 14th century: before the conquest of the Americas, the invention of printing, the Atlantic slave trade, and the Protestant Reformation.



In a recent post, Steve Sailer asks why the European world pulled ahead of the non-European world between 1000 and 1500 AD:


[…] much of the non-European world entered a sort of cultural recession well before Europeans directly interfered with them. If you look at, say, Charles Murray’s 2003 book Human Achievement, several major non-European civilizations appear to have lost momentum in making progress in the arts and sciences over roughly the time period of 1000 or maybe 1250 to 1500. (Sailer 2022)


For Steve, the reason was the collapse of the Mongol Empire during the 14th century. That century was indeed a turning point for Europe, particularly for England and Holland:


These North Sea economies experienced sustained GDP per capita growth for six straight centuries. The North Sea begins to diverge from the rest of Europe long before the 'West' begins its more famous split from 'the rest.'


[...] we can pin point the beginning of this 'little divergence' with greater detail. In 1348 Holland's GDP per capita was $876. England's was $777. In less than 60 years time Holland's jumps to $1,245 and England's to 1090. The North Sea's revolutionary divergence started at this time. (Greer 2013b)


This process began before the European conquest of the Americas, the invention of printing, the creation of modern finance institutions, the Atlantic slave trade, or the Protestant Reformation. None of these can be proper explanations for this "little divergence." (Greer 2013a; see also Thompson 2012 and Hbd *chick 2013).


The divergence began within a part of Europe that was much less affected by the rise and fall of the Mongol Empire. Moreover, if we compare southern Europe with North Africa during the same period, we see the same divergence that we see more generally between Christian Europe and the rest of the world. Yet North Africa was never conquered by the Mongols.


It looks like internal causes were responsible for the divergence between Christian Europe and the rest of the world. Those causes seem to have their point of origin in northwest Europe during the long period from 500 to 1500 AD. In that region, the Western Church consolidated a pre-existing pattern of small, nuclear households, weak family ties, and residential mobility, thus strengthening a mindset of individualism and impersonal sociality (Frost 2020; Schulz et al. 2019). Then, from 1000 AD onward, the Western Church strove to pacify social relations (Frost and Harpending 2015). Those two factors—an individualistic mindset operating in a pacified social environment—allowed the market economy to expand into all areas of life and eventually replace kinship as the main organizing principle of society (Frost 2020; Macfarlane 1978; Weber 1930).


The expansion of the market economy went hand in hand with the expansion of the middle class. In England, this class began to expand in the twelfth century and would gradually replace the lower classes through downward mobility. By the 1800s, its lineages accounted for most of the English population. English society thus became more middle class in its values: "Thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent, and leisure loving" (Clark 2007, p. 166). The same process took place elsewhere in Western Europe and more generally throughout Europe to varying degrees and over different timescales (Frost 2019, p. 176).


In sum, between 500 and 1500 AD the Western Church created a system of social reproduction that would have far-reaching demographic, behavioral, and economic consequences. To understand that system, one must understand not only the Bible but also the writings of early and medieval Christianity, as well as the pagan Germanic elements it incorporated (Russell 1994). Finally, one must understand the preceding system, and its failings.


The pre-Christian world: demographic and cognitive decline


Ancient DNA from Greece suggests that mean cognitive ability began to decline at some point during Classical Antiquity (Woodley of Menie et al. 2019). A similar decline probably happened throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East of that time.

There were three main causes:


·         A decline in fertility and family formation, particularly among the upper classes (Caldwell 2004; Hopkins 1965; Roetzel 2000, p. 234);

·         A corresponding increase in female hypergamy, often by freed slaves, which reduced the reproductive importance of upper-class women (Perry 2013);

·         An increase in the slave population, particularly foreign slaves (Harris 1999). This ongoing influx disrupted the process of local cognitive evolution. Even if there had been demographic overflow from the upper classes, that overflow could not have replaced the lower classes, since those classes were being replaced from external sources.


Christianity and Islam both tried to correct the ruinous demographic state of the ancient world. Islam succeeded in reversing negative population growth but failed to restart cognitive evolution. In some ways, it made such evolution more difficult. Islam increased female hypergamy by permitting male polygamy, thus further reducing the reproductive importance of upper-class women (van den Berghe 1960). Foreign slaves were also imported on a larger-scale than in antiquity, thus further disrupting local cognitive evolution (Lewis 1990). Finally, the upper classes tended to congregate in urban areas, where the death rate was higher.


Before the 20th century, population growth had been sluggish in the Muslim world. Wherever Muslims coexisted with Christians, the latter community was often the one that grew at a faster pace. This was the case in the Balkans:


By the end of the eighteenth century the Muslim population had entered a period of comparative economic and moral decline. Several explanations have been offered for this development. Certainly the fact that the Muslim population provided the soldiers contributed to its ultimate weakening. Their concentration in towns also made them more susceptible to the ravages of plague and other diseases. Turkish customs, particularly the practice of polygamy, played a part. This process of decay was clearly illustrated in the eighteenth century in the changing demography of the Balkan towns where Christian and national elements formed an increasingly larger proportion of the population (Jelavich and Jelavich, 1977, pp. 6-7)


Christianity, especially Western Christianity, succeeded not only in promoting population growth but also in restarting cognitive evolution, specifically by supporting the formation of monogamous families, by discouraging slavery, at least during the long period from 500 to 1500 AD, and eventually by creating the peace, order, and stability that allowed the middle class to expand and become dominant. The rise of Christian Europe actually began before its expansion into the Americas and Asia. The latter was, in fact, a consequence of the former.




Caldwell, J.C. (2004). Fertility control in the classical world: Was there an ancient fertility transition?  Journal of Population Research 21:1.  


Clark, G. (2007). A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World. Princeton University Press: Princeton.


Frost, P. (2019). The Original Industrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability? Psych 1(1): 166-181.


Frost, P. (2020). The large society problem in Northwest Europe and East Asia. Advances in Anthropology 10(3): 214-134.   


Frost, P. and H. Harpending. (2015). Western Europe, state formation, and genetic pacification. Evolutionary Psychology 13(1): 230-243.


Greer, T. (2013a). The Rise of the West: Asking the Right Questions. July 7, The Scholar's Stage

Greer, T. (2013b). Another look at the 'Rise of the West' - but with better numbers. November 20, The Scholar's Stage

Harris, W. (1999). Demography, Geography and the Sources of Roman Slaves. Journal of Roman Studies 89, 62-75.  


Hbd *chick (2013). Going Dutch, November 29.


Hopkins, K. (1965). Contraception in the Roman Empire. Comparative Studies in Society and History 8(1): 124-151.  


Jelavich, C. and B. Jelavich. (1977). The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804-1920. Seattle: University of Washington Press.


Lewis, B. (1990). Race and Slavery in the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press.


Macfarlane, A. (1978). The Origins of English Individualism: The Family, Property and Social Transition. Oxford: Blackwell.


Perry, M.J. (2013). Gender, Manumission, and the Roman Freedwoman. Cambridge University Press.


Roetzel, C.J. (2000). Sex and the single god: celibacy as social deviancy in the Roman period. In: S.G. Wilson and M. Desjardins (eds). Text and Artefact in the Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity. Essays in Honour of Peter Richardson. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (pp. 231-248).


Russell, J.C. (1994). The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Sailer, S. (2022). Why was much of the non-European world stagnating well before 1492? The Unz Review, May 10  


Schulz, J.F., D. Bahrami-Rad, J.P. Beauchamp, and J. Henrich. (2019). The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation. Science 366(707), 1-12.  


Thompson, D. (2012). The Economic History of the Last 2000 Years: Part II, The Atlantic, June 20,  


Van den Berghe, P.L. (1960). Hypergamy, Hypergenation, and Miscegenation. Human Relations 13(1):83-91.   


Weber, M. (1930). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.


Woodley of Menie, M.A., J. Delhez, M. Peñaherrera-Aguirre, and E.O.W. Kirkegaard. (2019). Cognitive archeogenetics of ancient and modern Greeks. London Conference on Intelligence  


Anonymous said...

Central and South America saw a decline due to climate change and overpopulation during this time of growth for NW Europe. all civilizations have seen serious rise and declines with very few surviving those declines!

its interesting that a lot of this is going on today!

Anonymous said...

Also who had and currently still has the clark unz advantage in the middle east.
Osama Bin Laden has MANY grandchildren.

aussiesta said...

Wonderful stuff, thanks

Anonymous said...

Whites will lose. Thanks.

Peter Frost said...


What about the Black Death? That killed about one in three Europeans.

The Clark-Unz model doesn't apply to any country that currently exists. In the West, it ended in the late 19th century.

Aussiesta: :)

Santocool said...

''Christianity and Islam both tried to correct the ruinous demographic state of the ancient world.''

Two cults in magical thinking...

Interesting how this ''cognitive evolution'' took centuries to have any really relevant effect.

I find it funny how words are also valuable weapons for rightists. I thought they were only useful for leftists.

I think the impetus for social justice, something akin to ''critical thinking'', should also be considered a form of ''cognitive capacity'', as it is the ability to detect predatory or parasitic behaviors... absolutely fundamental to survival and adaptation.

What I perceive about the role of ''religion'' in evolution is more along the lines of:

domestication/selection of individuals predominantly unable to reason for themselves, chronically dependent on narratives;

to promote different forms of social parasitism;

and therefore increasing the population of predominantly irrational individuals, many low IQ.

What ''religion'' really did was stagnate the ''postmodern'' bleeds of the classical period.

What really may have contributed to the increase in ''intelligence'' [and associated with both high-level domestication and the psychological propensity to social parasitism] was the birth of a specialized-bourgeois class during feudalism.

Anonymous said...

piece of shit frost should be your name!

charlie said...

Dear Prof,

Glad to see you are still posting your work. I never would have discovered you research were it not for your essays at, many of which are very well crafted and effortlessly readable for the motivated generalist.

Charles W. Abbott
Rochester NY

P.S.: Nigeria is a hard country to understand. I noticed you making some earlier posts on the topic. All the current large ethnolinguistic groups represent a very recent amalgamation of much smaller communities. I would say more but others have written about it much better for decades now. Peel on the Yoruba, perhaps Dmitri van der Berselaar on the Igbo, even Abernethy's concept of "ethnic missionaries" trying to convince the masses that they were all Igbo or Yoruba for example--book on education perhaps 50 years old now. Perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree here

Peter Frost said...


For what it's worth, I don't consider myself "right." At university, I was a leftwing activist, and I don't feel I have changed a lot since then. It's the "left" that has changed. It's no longer concerned about the working class and has largely become coopted by late-stage capitalism.

Most people need a rules-based existence. It may be religion or it may be something else. It's wrongheaded to let people, especially children, work out the rules by themselves.


Most people call me "Peter." I also have a middle name: Edward.


Since the Nigerian Civil War the authorities have tried to define "Igbo" as narrowly as possible. As I understand it, there are related neighboring groups who identify as Igbo to varying degrees. The question is interesting but not important for my argument. The Niger Delta seems to be the epicenter of selection for cognitive ability, so I would expect that this selection has impacted neighboring groups as well.

Santocool said...


For what it's worth, I don't consider myself "right." At university, I was a leftwing activist, and I don't feel I have changed a lot since then. It's the "left" that has changed. It's no longer concerned about the working class and has largely become coopted by late-stage capitalism.

Most people need a rules-based existence. It may be religion or it may be something else. It's wrongheaded to let people, especially children, work out the rules by themselves.''

But then you think that using scientific ''neutrality'' to speculate about ideas that can get big problems for groups or even be used to justify oppression and exploitation by right-wing psychopaths is an acceptable thing to do?

Science cannot be ''neutral'' but impartial. Two different things, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands in World War II.

I totally agree that children cannot be TOTALLY free to do whatever they want, as well as ADULTS.

That's why there must be a BALANCE between authority and dependent.

charlie said...

Dear Prof.,

Thanks for your reply. I appreciate the time and energy you put into posting your work here, and previously at Unz.

Charles W. Abbott
Rochester NY

Anonymous said...

How does the middle class which is fairly urban replace the rural lower classes? The dumb and lazy son of a merchant becomes a tenant farmer? That doesn’t make much sense.

I don’t object to the concept generally of the middle class’s weaker descendants partly replacing the lower class. I just don’t see how it could be too extensive since the more plausible downward route for the dumb son would be to low-surviving-fertility urban working classes. Meanwhile the circa 1500-1850 lower class peasants have moderate fertility and replace themselves while also migrating to cities and America.

Related topic: my mostly-upwardly mobile English and Prussian family tree has a whole bunch of widowers who age 35-50 remarry women 22-35, the older ones I assume widows. (Also some old widowers marrying 50+ widows which is touching and perhaps slightly eugenic in that they provide some care to grandchildren.)

Peter Frost said...


I feel it is important to know the truth. I also feel that untruth does more harm than truth.


Glad to see you come here!


Please correct me if I'm wrong but I don't believe Gregory Clark was speaking only about demographic replacement of the rural lower classes. In his research, he found a strong positive correlation between fertility and social class. Even in the countryside, the lower classes did not replace themselves demographically.

My maternal ancestors (Corking) were merchants on Fleet Street (London) in the 18th century. They had tons of children, but only a few were able to continue as merchants. When my great grandfather came to Canada, he initially worked as a laborer in the shipbuilding industry. He then worked as a peddler until he had saved up enough money to open a store in Toronto.