What were the economic effects of the Black Death on western Europe?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In answering this question, we need to think about both short term and long term effects of the Black Death. 

In the short term, the Black Death was, of course, incredibly destructive for the economy of Western Europe.  The plague killed so many people that the economic life of the continent was completely disrupted.  With peasants dying in large numbers, manors lost some of their agricultural output.  With people in cities dying in large numbers, the output produced by artisans declined and so did trade.  All of these things were very damaging to the economy of Western Europe in the short term.

In the long term, the Black Death helped lead to fundamental changes in the economy of Western Europe.  As peasants died, there came to be many fewer peasants even as the need for labor remained relatively constant.  In economic terms, the demand for labor did not drop much, but the supply of labor did.  This meant that peasants could demand better terms in exchange for their labor.  Because of this, many peasants stopped being servile and instead became free laborers.  Ambitious peasants came to be able to buy their own land and become much more economically secure than ever before.  A similar process made urban workers better off as well.

In short, then, the Black Death caused short term damage to Western European economies and caused the economic systems of the region to change in the long term.