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Igor B. Martins is a postdoctoral research associate at the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. Feel free to browse around!

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About me


I am an economic historian who specialized in development economics, labor coercion, and colonial legacies.  I obtained my M.Sc and Ph.D. in Economic History at Lund University in Sweden. I am currently a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Cambridge where I contribute to an exciting project on labor economics and labor market integration in West Africa

Aside from my role in England, I continue to be affiliated with Lund University where I am a postdoctoral fellow contributing to the biggest African Economic History research project in the world, and also a project on resilience to economic shrinking as a catching-up strategy

Complementary to my research assignments, my teaching experience encompasses courses covering academic writing, methods, and colonialism in Africa and Latin America. For my work as a teacher, I have been awarded the Teacher of the Year prize in 2020 by Lund University School of Economics and Management.


Published works

Development economics has long focused on growth patterns to explain countries’ ability to catch up and forge ahead. We argue, however, that resilience to economic shrinking matters more. Using the examples of Brazil and Indonesia, we propose that a framework consisting of social capabilities – namely structural transformation, autonomy, and inclusion – can explain why Indonesia is more resilient to economic shrinking than Brazil and why the country is more likely to be successful in its catching-up process.

Coauthored with Tobias Axelsson.

Can wealth shocks have intergenerational health consequences? We use the partial compensation slaveholders received after the 1834 slave emancipation in the British Cape Colony to measure the intergenerational effects of a wealth loss on longevity. We find that a greater loss of slave wealth shortened the lifespans of the generation of slaveholders that experienced the shock albeit these effects are usually small and mostly confined to older cohorts of slaveholders who likely exploited slaves both as labor and capital inputs. The lifespans of those of the second generation who survived infancy were unaffected by the shortfalls and no effects of the shortfall were found for the third generation.

Coauthored with Jeanne Cilliers and Johan Fourie.

(Click on the paper title to read it in full)

Employing a range of newly digitized historical databases covering the economic life and genealogical history of the British Cape Colony through the 18th and 19th centuries, it explores the determinants of labor coercion in light of two significant institutional shocks: the Slave Trade Act 1807, when the transshipment of slaves became illegal, and the Slave Abolition Act 1833 when the possession of slaves was outlawed. It concludes that scenarios with weak property rights to land and lack of organized means for the provision of credit rendered slaves a suitable financial instrument allowing slaveholders to exploit the enslaved as means to raise capital beyond the agricultural labor. Understanding the proprietary relationship between masters and slaves and, consequently, their exploitation beyond agricultural work is key to explaining the dynamics of slavery in its entirety.

We ask what caused poverty to decline in Brazil during the first decade of the 21st century. Our contribution lies in the introduction of a structural change perspective to assess the evolution of poverty by considering the sectoral impact of growth and the social policies at the federal, state and municipal level. We confirm previous findings in the literature that the service sector rather than agriculture contributes the most to the sustained poverty reduction. Strikingly, the public administration is the leading sub-sector. We also find that state and municipal expenditures in human capital contribute more to poverty reduction than federal expenditures associated with conditional cash transfer programs; investment in infrastructure does not seem to contribute to poverty reduction.

Coauthored with Andrés Palacio.

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Why does slavery persist? Using newly digitized historical datasets covering more than 40 years in two different districts of the British Cape Colony, this paper measures changes in slave ownership and acquisition patterns following the Slave Trade Act 1807. By effectively banning the transshipment of slaves, the Act operated as a supply shock to Cape settlers. Given the agro-climatic variation of the Cape Colony, the effects of the Act are observed on farmers subjected to a different range of factor endowments which created very different labor demands. The results show that livestock farmers, surprisingly, were more inelastic to the import ban in comparison to crop farmers. These results suggest that slaveholders could extract rents from the enslaved in a multitude of ways beyond agricultural production and calls for a broader theory of slavery as capital investment.

Capital and Labor: Theoretical foundations of the economics of slavery (Under revision at the Journal of Global History)

Despite the prevalence of slavery in world history, our understanding of its rise, persistence, and fall remains limited. Most previous studies focus on slavery primarily as a labor contract indistinguishable from other coercive arrangements, such as serfdom. In this paper, we argue that this view fails to consider other forms of economic exploitation experienced by the enslaved. In the cases where property rights to land were either weak or did not yield significant values, slaveholders had an incentive to use slaves as means to raise capital beyond their role as farmworkers. This paper uses the Cape Colony, Brazil, and the southern United States as case studies to demonstrate that despite significant geographic, demographic, and economic differences, these slave economies still share significant elements for economic historians to continue the pursuit of a comprehensive theory of slavery. In this theory, the role of slaves as capital investments is necessary. Coauthored with Erik Green.

Whether pre-transitional couples exercised deliberate control over their fertility has been a keystone question for much of the historical demography research produced over the last half-century. The earliest attempts to find an answer concluded that there was little evidence to suggest that couples might have been limiting their fertility in any meaningful way prior to the transition (Henry, 1961; Knodel and van de Walle, 1979). Early study designs however, could not isolate party-dependent spacing behaviour, suggesting that some degree of fertility control could still have been operating in society, but that data and statistical limitations prevented researchers from detecting it. The search for evidence of parity-dependent spacing before the transition is important because if found, lends credence to the notion that some couples already knew how to achieve their desired family size and that they were doing so prior to the transition, albeit not in a transition-initiating way (van Bavel, 2004; van Bavel and Kok, 2010; Cinnirella et al., 2017). Borrowing Coale’s (1973) terminology, couples may long have been “able” limit their fertility with greater or lesser degrees of success, having knowledge of traditional methods of family planning, but not yet “ready” or “willing” to do so, either because large family sizes were viewed as beneficial for economic reasons or seen as the cultural norm, and therefore desired. The implicit assumption in the ongoing debate that the observed outcome of smaller family sizes and longer birth intervals must be driven by an intention to limit family size, doesn’t allow for a change in birth interval lengths to be driven by something other than parity-dependence (Johnson-Hanks, 2007; Timæus and Moultrie, 2008; Moultrie et al., 2012). During periods of short-term economic stress however, all three ready, willing and able conditions might temporary be satisfied, with couples deciding to postpone their next birth to ease the burden of a shock (Timæus and Moultrie, 2008). Postponement, then, encompasses decisions not to have another birth because of temporary personal circumstances such as the state of the local economy or reasons related to individual income and health, some of which could be more readily detectable in rural agricultural contexts (Bengtsson and Dribe 2006). The pre-transitional South African settler context is ideal for an investigation of fertility-limiting behaviour in light of short-term economic stress. This paper explores the effects of both general price shocks (high inflationary periods) and the more direct effects of a negative wealth shock on settler couples' starting, stoppping, and spacing behaviour. The 1834 emancipation of slaves represented a substantial loss of wealth to many Cape Colony slaveholders, with records showing that they received, on average, between 40 and 50\% of the market value of their slaves. From slaveholder compensations claim forms we identify former slave-holder households. To this, we link complete birth histories of settler women from the South African Families database. Using this combination of novel data sources and event history models that look simultaneously at stopping, spacing as well as postponement we investigate the effect of unanticipated negative economic shocks on all dimensions of fertility limitation.

Agricultural output fluctuated worldwide after the emancipation of slaves. The usual explanation is that former slaveholders now lacked labor. This is not the full story: slaves were not just laborers but capital investments to support production. Using databases covering more than 40 years from Stellenbosch in the British Cape Colony, this study measures changes in output before and after emancipation to determine the role of slaves as factors of production. Large shortfalls in compensation paid to slaveholders after the 1833 Abolition Act reveal that slaves were a source of capital that strongly influenced production levels, an important reason for the output variation.

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Colonialism and Economic Change



Institutions, Growth and Equity


Writing with Pen

The Art of Writing and Reporting


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Field Work, Internship and Research Overview


Development of Emerging Economies


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