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On the Road to Heaven: Taxation, Conversions, and the Coptic-Muslim Socioeconomic Gap in Medieval Egypt

  • Mohamed Saleh

Self-selection of converts is an under-studied explanation of inter-religion socioeconomic status (SES) differences. Inspired by this conjecture, I trace the Coptic-Muslim SES gap in Egypt to self-selection-on-SES during Egypt’s conversion from Coptic Christianity to Islam. Selection was driven by a poll tax on non-Muslims, imposed from 641 until 1856, which induced poorer Copts to convert to Islam leading Copts to shrink into a better-off minority. Using novel data sources, I document that high-tax districts in 641–1100 had in 1848–1868 relatively fewer Copts, but greater SES differentials. Group restrictions on apprenticeships and schooling led the initial selection to perpetuate.

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I thank William Collins, the editor of Journal of Economic History and three anonymous referees for their excellent comments. I am grateful to my advisors, Dora Costa, Leah Boustan, and Jeffrey Nugent for their advice and support. I thank Ragui Assaad, Gregory Clark, Jacques Crémer, Joseph Ferrie, Avner Greif, Christian Hellwig, Timur Kuran, Naomi Lamoreaux, Yassine Lefouili, Thierry Magnac, Joel Mokyr, Dimitris Pipinis, Paul Seabright, Stéphane Straub, Hany Takla, Jean Tirole, Martin Weidner, and my colleagues at TSE and IAST, as well as the participants of my seminars at UCLA, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, Stanford, Northwestern, Yale, Oxford, TSE, IAST, PSE, LSE, SITE, AEA, ASREC, AALIMS, NES, All-UC, and AHEC. I am grateful to IPUMS, EHA, USC, and the ANR-Labex IAST for funding the project. Finally, I thank Yue Fei, George Lukyanov, Norhan Muhab, Sara Nada, Caroline Naguib, Yosra Osama, Iman Sami, and Manal Zahran for their research assistance. All errors are mine.

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