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Human Capital Accumulation in France at the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century: Lessons from the Guizot Inquiry

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Building on the results of the Guizot inquiry, carried out in autumn 1833 on the initiative of François Guizot, the minister of public instruction, this article examines the process of human capital accumulation in the early nineteenth-century France. We rely on an original measure of human capital—student progress—to highlight the high level of heterogeneity in human capital accumulation in this period. We identify two types of schools in the French educational landscape: first, large schools, well-endowed in human and material resources, which contributed a great deal to human capital accumulation, and, second, small schools, characterised by some degree of amateurism and improvisation, which weakly contributed to human capital formation. We note that the use of literacy rates or school enrolment rates can be misleading with regard to the estimation of French human capital endowments, laying emphasis instead on the heterogeneity in the French educational landscape at the dawn of the nineteenth century, as the country embarked on the process of industrialisation.


  • Guizot inquiry
  • Human capital accumulation
  • France
  • Nineteenth century

JEL Classification

  • C10
  • I21
  • N33

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-99480-2_10
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Fig. 10.1
Fig. 10.2
Fig. 10.3


  1. 1.

    Given the lack of data, new strategies to measure human capital (within the spirit of the procedure based on marriage registers) have recently been developed. The age heaping method (see, for instance, A’Hearn et al. 2009; Crayen and Baten 2010 and Baten et al. 2014) uses accuracy of age reporting as a proxy for numeracy. This method relies on “the tendency of poorly educated people to round their age erroneously. For example, they answer more often ‘40’, if they are in fact 39 or 41, compared with better educated people” (Crayen and Baten 2010, p. 452).

  2. 2.

    Girls’ schools fell outside the scope of the Guizot law.

  3. 3.

    In 1833, the daily wage of a bricklayer equalled 2.21F.

  4. 4.

    We also note that almost half of the schools of our sample did not have enough books for the pupils.

  5. 5.

    Religious instruction was taught in all schools in the sample, so we do not count it.

  6. 6.

    Guernanville is located in the department of Eure.

  7. 7.

    In his report, inspector Louis-Arsène Meunier explained that he asked a pupil to resolve a basic mathematical problem. The pupil failed and the teacher said “I didn’t teach that, I don’t know myself”.

  8. 8.

    Les progrès étaient fort lents. La méthode de lecture était détestable. Les élèves mettaient beaucoup de temps à apprendre à lire, et comme il était d’usage de ne leur montrer à écrire que lorsqu’ils étaient arrivés à lire couramment, il en résultait que beaucoup d’enfants quittaient la classe sans même savoir signer leurs noms. Quant à ceux qui avaient appris à écrire, un grand nombre n’étaient pas en état de se servir de leur écriture, soit faute de savoir l’orthographe, soit faute d’avoir été habitués à exprimer leurs idées sur le papier (Account of the inspector Louis-Arsène Meunier, 1833).


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Correspondence to Magali Jaoul-Grammare or Charlotte Le Chapelain .

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10.1.1 The Original Questionnaire of the Guizot Inquiry

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Jaoul-Grammare, M., Le Chapelain, C. (2019). Human Capital Accumulation in France at the Dawn of the Nineteenth Century: Lessons from the Guizot Inquiry. In: Diebolt, C., Rijpma, A., Carmichael, S., Dilli, S., Störmer, C. (eds) Cliometrics of the Family. Studies in Economic History. Springer, Cham.

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