New Insight on Climate and Work Effort

Historians and economists point to favorable climate as an advantage enjoyed by Europeans so that these countries developed early, became wealthier, and dominated the globe through innovation, military aggression, and trade. I wondered whether unpleasant climate saps work motivation.

One way of analyzing this question is to look back in time and ask why ordinary people first began to accumulate a level of wealth never before seen. In other words, why did the Industrial Revolution happen?

The Industrial Revolution
Worker productivity, or the value realized by each hour of paid work began rocketing higher in England after about 1870 and never stopped. Productivity increased from $2.55 in 1870 to $27.45 in 1998 (in constant dollars, 1) making Britons more than ten times wealthier in real terms than they were at the beginning of this growth spurt. Similar trends are seen in all developed countries.

With increased worker productivity came higher wages and increased spending that fueled further growth. Yet that phenomenon failed to materialize in some countries around the world. So as far as material prosperity is concerned, these are less well off than the British in 1870 (examples include Burundi, Central African Republic, Liberia, and Democratic Republic of the Congo all having current GDP per person of less than $1,000). Why that is the case is the subject of much head-scratching. One widely floated explanation concerns climate, the notion that in some places it is just too uncomfortable to work hard.

Tropical Climate Versus Tropical Diseases
My own study of 60 countries finds that people are less productive if they happen to live in countries having tropical climates. In other words, they generate less national income per hour of work (including self-employment and employees). Interestingly, people living in countries having temperate climates were not more productive than other —> Read More