The Economic History Review

Numeracy selectivity of Spanish migrants in colonial America (sixteenth–eighteenth centuries)

Volume 77 Issue 2
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Pages: 503-522Authors: María del Carmen Pérez-Artés
Published online: August 3, 2023DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13279

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Since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the so-called New World in 1492, hundreds of thousands of Spaniards settled in Central and South America. This paper assesses the skill selectivity of Spanish migrants who went to Hispanic America during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries for the first time. The age-heaping method is employed to estimate numeracy levels as a proxy for human capital. With a database of 33 929 individual observations, the findings show that Spaniards who left the country to settle in the Spanish territories were positively self-selected. Additionally, differences are observed in the human capital of those who chose to settle in Mexico, who had a higher level of numeracy, than those who chose Peru. These differences might be due to the viceroyalty structure and educational institutions that encouraged the emigration of people with greater human capital to Mexico. Finally, when the level of numeracy of Spaniards in Hispanic America is compared with the numeracy of the total population, emigrants still had higher levels of human capital.