When and how does a land become rich? Insight into Francesco Cinnirella’s research

By Rikke Ulvedahl Carlsen, Student Assistant at DIAS

As an economic historian, DIAS Fellow Francesco Cinnirella is interested in how a country becomes wealthy in a historical perspective. Particularly, when countries begin to become innovative.

Economic, cultural and institutional differences today can be traced back to centuries old historical events. Through the study of economic history, it is possible to understand the decisive factors for a country’s economic growth or stagnation in the long-run. These insights can also help explain why some kinds of policies are more effective than others and why these can be easier or harder to implement.

Investment in mass education is one of these important factors. By studying mass education in 19th century Europe, Francesco Cinnirella has concluded that there are significant economic returns from the investment in education. One important question is when this investment pays off. Relatedly, is there a connection between education and technological innovation?



Answering this question requires Francesco Cinnirella to reconstruct the demographic and socio-economic conditions of the country of interest through different primary sources. This includes using contemporary census data, original manuscripts with data about prices and wages, and church registers, where the last source is usually particularly fruitful. With these data it is possible to reconstruct the economic history of towns, regions, and even whole countries. When the data has been collected, Francesco Cinnirella uses state-of-the-art econometric techniques to determine if the relationships between variables are simple correlations or causal effects.

According to Francesco Cinnirella, being part of DIAS is especially beneficial for his research – as an interdisciplinary elite center consisting of foremost researchers from different fields, the environment entails motivating and inspiring research:

People bring new ideas and different perspectives, which forces you to think out of the box. It opens for potential collaborations and the exchange of ideas.

Francesco Cinnirella has been affiliated with DIAS since 2018.

About Francesco Cinnirella

Francesco Cinnirella is Associate Professor of Public Economics at the Department of Economics, University of Bergamo, Italy. Besides being an external DIAS Fellow, Francesco Cinnirella is also affiliated with HEDG, as well as CESifo as a Research Affiliate, CEPR as a Research Fellow and CAGE as a Research Associate. He is also member of the editorial board of Explorations in Economic History and of the Rivista di Storia Economica. He has held visiting positions at the University of Munich, Brown University, University of Mannheim, and University of Bayreuth.

Click here for more information about Francesco Cinnirella.