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Fertility Decline and the Heights of Children in Britain, 1886-1938

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  • Timothy J. Hatton
  • Richard M. Martin

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 analyze the relationship between the standardized 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 nearly half 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

Paper provided by Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 613.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:613

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Keywords: fertility decline; heights of children; health in Britain;

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  1. 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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  6. Alison Booth & Hiau Joo Kee, 2005. "Birth Order Matters: The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Educational Attainment," CEPR Discussion Papers 506, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  7. Hatton, Timothy J., 2010. "Infant Mortality and the Health of Survivors: Britain 1910-1950," IZA Discussion Papers 4932, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  13. 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.
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  16. Becker, Gary S & Lewis, H Gregg, 1973. "On the Interaction between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S279-88, Part II, .
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  22. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1976. "Child Endowments, and the Quantity and Quality of Children," NBER Working Papers 0123, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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