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Fertility decline and the heights of children in Britain, 1886-1938

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  • Hatton, Timothy J.
  • Martin, Richard M.

Abstract

In this paper we argue that the fertility decline that began around 1880 had substantial positive effects on the health of children, as the quality-quantity trade-off would suggest. We use microdata from a unique survey from 1930s Britain to analyse the relationship at the household level between the standardised heights of children and the number of children in the family. Our results suggest that heights are influenced positively by family income per capita and negatively by the number of children or the degree of crowding in the household. The evidence suggests that family size affected the health of children through its influence on both nutrition and disease. Applying our results to long-term trends, we find that rising household income and falling family size contributed significantly to improving child health between 1886 and 1938. Between 1906 and 1938 these variables account for 40% of the increase in heights, and much of this effect is due to falling family size. We conclude that the fertility decline is a neglected source of the rapid improvement in health in the first half of the twentieth century.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 47 (2010)
Issue (Month): 4 (October)
Pages: 505-519

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:47:y:2010:i:4:p:505-519

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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Keywords: Fertility decline Heights of children Health in Britain;

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  1. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
  2. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
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  4. Timothy J. Hatton & Richard M. Martin, 2010. "The effects on stature of poverty, family size, and birth order: British children in the 1930s," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 62(1), pages 157-184, January.
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  8. Booth, Alison L & Kee, Hiau Joo, 2006. "Birth Order Matters: The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Educational Attainment," CEPR Discussion Papers 5453, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  12. Roderick Floud & Kenneth Wachter & Annabel Gregory, 1990. "Height, Health, and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750-1980," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number flou90-1.
  13. Cage, R A & Foster, John, 2002. "Overcrowding and Infant Mortality: A Tale of Two Cities," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 49(2), pages 129-49, May.
  14. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1976. "Child Endowments and the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages S143-62, August.
  15. Hatton, Timothy J., 2010. "Infant Mortality and the Health of Survivors: Britain 1910-1950," CEPR Discussion Papers 7841, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  16. Gazeley, Ian & Newell, Andrew T., 2009. "The End of Destitution," IZA Discussion Papers 4295, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  17. Weir, David R., 1993. "Parental Consumption Decisions and Child Health During the Early French Fertility Decline, 1790–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(02), pages 259-274, June.
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Cited by:
  1. Becker, Sascha O; Cinnirella, Francesco; Woessmann, Ludger, 2011. "Does Parental Education Affect Fertility? Evidence from Pre-Demographic Transition Prussia," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 41, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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