Journal of Economic Growth

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 263–303 | Cite as

The longevity of famous people from Hammurabi to Einstein

  • David de la CroixEmail author
  • Omar Licandro


We build a new sample of 300,000 famous people born between Hammurabi’s epoch and Einstein’s cohort, including their vital dates, occupations, and locations from the Index Bio-bibliographicus Notorum Hominum. We discuss and control for selection and composition biases. We show using this long-running consistent database that there was no trend in mortality during most of human history, confirming the existence of a Malthusian epoch; we date the beginning of the steady improvements in longevity to the cohort born in 1640–1649, clearly preceding the Industrial Revolution, lending credence to the hypothesis that human capital may have played a significant role in the take-off to modern growth; we find that this timing of improvements in longevity concerns most countries in Europe and most skilled occupations.


Longevity Notoriety Malthus Elite Compensation effect of mortality Enlightenment Europe 

JEL Classification

J11 I12 N30 I20 J24 



The authors thank Manuel Arellano, Raouf Boucekkine, Leah Boustan, Elise Brezis, Georgi Kocharkov, Oded Galor, Ana Rute, Frans van Poppel, Sébastien Van Belleghem, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Nico Voigtlaender, Joachim Voth, John Wilmoth and participants at seminars (CEMFI, CIREC–McGill, Demography–UCLouvain, GREQAM–Marseilles, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research–Rostock, PUC–Rio de Janeiro, UdelaR–Montevideo, University San Andrés–Buenos Aires, University of São Paulo, University of Southern Denmark, University of Zurich, UCLA economic history group), and conferences (2012: REDg–Madrid, Sixth Low Countries Conference–Antwerp, Sustainability of Population Changes–Louvain-la-Neuve, Towards Sustainable Economic Growth–Barcelona, Cologne Workshop on Macroeconomics, SAEe; 2013: ASSA–San Diego, Deep Determinants of International Comparative Development–Brown, LACEA–Mexico) for their comments. Laura Cozma has provided highly valuable research assistance. Omar Licandro acknowledges the financial support of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (ECO2010-17943 and ECO2013-48884-C3-1-P). We finally thank Zeller Verlag and Mrs Suzanna Wand, for allowing us to publish online the part of their commercial database we used for the empirical analysis (except for the title of the sources linked to each famous person).

Supplementary material

10887_2015_9117_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (287 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 287 KB) (111.3 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (zip 113987 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IRES and COREUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.IAE-CSIC and Barcelona GSEBarcelonaSpain

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