African Real Wages in Asian Perspective, 1880-1940

Number: 
2
Author: 
Frankema and van Waijenburg

This paper offers time-series of urban unskilled labor wages and commodity prices in eightBritish African colonies (1880-1940) and shows that real wages were above subsistence leveland rising, especially during the interwar years. Real wages in West Africa and Mauritiuswere even considerably higher than in some major Asian cities. Our results cast doubt onstudies emphasizing the existence of structural impediments to African economic growth.We also document an East-West divergence within Africa and argue this was caused byvariations in colonial land and labor market institutions, challenging the view that Africancolonial institutions were exclusively extractive.