The Economic History Review

Serbia on the path to modern economic growth

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Authors: Boško Mijatović, Milan Zavadjil
Published online: August 16, 2022DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13186

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Given the scanty and inadequate studies on Serbia’s growth performance before the First World War, this paper presents production-side GDP estimates for Serbia for six years between 1867 and 1910. It probes into the growth dynamics, assessing convergence with the more developed countries of north-western Europe, as well as progress towards achieving modern economic growth. Although the economy showed some dynamism in terms of overall GDP, per capita GDP in pre-First World War Serbia grew by only 0.28 per cent per annum, as much of the overall GDP growth was eroded by rapid population growth. Far from converging with north-western Europe, Serbia continued to fall behind. Sluggish structural transformation and slow income per capita growth suggest that Serbia’s transition to modern economic growth was in its infancy. Growth in the dominant agricultural sector was extensive, driven by expanding arable land and population growth. Land was affordable and easy to obtain; hence, peasants invested little in new technologies. Meanwhile, the modern industrial and service sectors were below a threshold that could sustain rapid growth. Nevertheless, this study also highlights the rapid expansion of a small modern sector and export diversification that reflected emergent ‘green shoots’ in 1905–10.