The Demographic Effects of Colonialism: Forced Labor and Mortality in Java, 1834-1879



We investigate the demographic effects of forced labor under an extractive colonial regime: the Cultivation System in nineteenth-century Java. Our panel analyses show that labor demands are strongly associated with mortality rates, likely resulting from malnourishment and unhygienic conditions on plantations and the spread of infectious disease. An instrumental variable approach, using international market prices for coffee and sugar to predict labor demands, addresses potential endogeneity concerns. Our estimates suggest that without the abolition of the Cultivation System average overall mortality in Java would have been between (roughly) 10 and 30 percent higher by the late 1870s.
Date made available23 Jun 2021
PublisherWageningen University
Temporal coverage1834 - 1879
Date of data production2018 - 2021
Geographical coverage Java, Southeast Asia, Indonesia


  • labor
  • mortality rates
  • colonialism
  • agricultural production
  • sugar
  • coffee

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