The roots of land inequality in Spain

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There is a high degree of inequality in land access across Spain. In the South, and in contrast to other areas of the Iberian Peninsula, economic and political power there has traditionally been highly concentrated in the hands of large landowners. Indeed, an unequal land ownership structure has been linked to social conflict, the presence of revolutionary ideas and a desire for agrarian reform. But what are the origins of such inequality? In this paper we quantitatively examine whether geography and/or history can explain the regional differences in land access in Spain. While marked regional differences in climate, topography and location would have determined farm size, the timing of the Reconquest, the expansion of the Christian kingdoms across the Iberian Peninsula between the 9th and the 15th centuries at the expense of the Moors, influenced the type of institutions that were set up in each region and, in turn, the way land was appropriated and distributed among the Christian settlers. To analyse the effect of these two factors, we rely on the number of farm labourers for all 471 Spanish districts (partidos judiciales) using the information contained in the 1860 Population Census. In line with various classic works, our results show that although geographic factors did play a role, the institutional setting that arose from the Reconquest is key in explaining the unequal distribution of land in Spain, particularly in the former territories of the Kingdom of Castile.
Land distribution, Geography, Institutions, Reconquista
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