Rosenberg's contribution to understanding technological change was acknowledged by Douglass C. North in his Nobel Prize lecture entitled "Economic Performance through Time".
In 1986's How the West Grew Rich, Rosenberg and co-author L.E. Birdzell, Jr. argued that Western Europe's economic success grew out of a loosening of political and religious controls, and that Western medieval life was not actually organized in castles, cathedrals, and cities; but that it was organized more in the rural areas in huts and in places with reliable access to food. This is why, the book states, most of the population was to some extent involved in agriculture and its related occupations of transporting produce from place to place. The importance of these ideas have since been more fully recognized by the discipline of international economic history. The Rosenberg-Birdzell hypothesis is that innovation is produced by economic competition among politically independent entities. This hypothesis is tested and confirmed by Joel Mokyr in his contribution to the Festschrift-issue of Research Policy, which was published in honor of Nathan Rosenberg in 1994.