Working Papers

Celestial Enlightenment: Eclipses, curiosity and economic development among pre-modern ethnic groups

**Revise & Resubmit at _The Economic Journal_** This paper revisits the role of human capital for economic growth among pre-modern ethnic groups. We hypothesise that exposure to rare natural events drives curiosity and prompts thinking in an attempt to comprehend and explain the phenomenon, thus raising human capital. We focus on solar eclipses as one particular trigger of curiosity and empirically establish a robust relationship between their number and several proxies for economic prosperity: social complexity, technological level and population density. Variation in solar eclipse exposure is exogenous as their local incidence is randomly and sparsely distributed all over the globe. Additionally, eclipses’ non-destructive character makes them outperform other uncanny natural events, such as volcano eruptions or earthquakes, which have a direct negative economic effects. We also offer evidence compatible with the human capital increase we postulate, finding a more intricate thinking in ethnic groups more exposed to solar eclipses. In particular, we study the development of written language, the playing of strategy games and the accuracy of the folkloric reasoning for eclipses.

Roots of Gender Equality: the Persistent Effect of Beguinages on Attitudes Toward Women

**Awarded the 'UWIN Best Paper Award on Gender Economics', 7th edition.** **Awarded a 'Valeria Solesin' accessit, 2018 edition.** **Revise & Resubmit at _Journal of Economic Growth_** This paper is concerned with the historical roots of gender equality. It proposes and empirically assesses a new class of determinants of gender equality: increases in women's bargaining power through reductions in the cost of remaining single. In particular, enlarging women's options besides marriage —even if only temporarily— increases their bargaining power with respect to men, leading to a persistent improvement in gender equality. We illustrate this mechanism focusing on the specific Belgian context, and relate gender-equality levels in the 19th century to the presence of medieval, female-only communities called _beguinages_ that allowed women to remain single amidst a society that advocated the opposite. Combining precise beguinages' location with 19th-century census data, we document that beguinages were instrumental in decreasing the gender gap in literacy.