Table 1 presents data on the daily silver wage of unskilled labourers in Europe and Asia between the early sixteenth century and the mid-nineteenth century. This is the daily money wage, expressed in local currency units, converted to reflect their silver content. Before 1500, the highest silver wages within Europe were paid in the south, particularly in northern Italy and Spain. Between 1500 and 1850, there was little positive trend in the south European silver wage, and silver wage leadership passed to northwestern Europe, particularly the Netherlands and England. England emerged as the clear silver wage leader by the early nineteenth century. In central and eastern Europe, silver wages followed the south European trend of fluctuations with little positive trend, but starting from a lower level. Hence central and eastern Europe remained the low wage part of Europe throughout the early modern period.
Data from Özmucur and Pamuk (2002) on the Ottoman Empire suggest that silver wages in Istanbul followed roughly the south European path. Silver wages in India were low, even by central and east European standards, and Chinese wages were little higher. However, we cannot rule out some overlap between the Yangzi delta and parts of central and eastern Europe, such as Leipzig, given uncertainties over the data.1 The central issue is thus how to explain how silver wages in northwestern Europe diverged from other parts of Europe and from the Near East and Asia. This is the Great Divergence.