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Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

For over a quarter century anthropometric historians have struggled to identify and measure the numerous factors that affect adult stature, which depends upon diet, disease and physical activity from conception to maturity. I simplify this complex problem by assessing nutritional status in a particular year using synthetic longitudinal data created from measurements of children born in the same year but measured at adjacent ages, which are abundantly available from 28,000 slave manifests housed at the National Archives. I link this evidence with annual measures of economic conditions and new measures of the disease environment to test hypotheses of slave owner behavior. Height-by-age profiles furnish clear evidence that owners substantially managed slave health. The short-term evidence shows that weather affected growth via exposure to pathogens and that owners modified net nutrition in response to sustained price signals.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10993.

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Date of creation: Dec 2004
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10993

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  1. Pablo Astorga, Ame R. Berges and Valpy FitzGerald, . "The Standard of Living in Latin America During the Twentieth Century," QEH Working Papers qehwps103, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
  2. Elaine Tan, 2002. ""The Bull is Half the Herd": Property Rights and Enclosures in England, 1750-1850," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _046, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  3. Ame Bergés & Valpy Fitzgerald, 2004. "The Standard of Living in Latin America During the Twentieth Century," Economics Series Working Papers 2004-W54, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  4. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "Birth weights and infant mortality among American slaves," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 173-198, April.
  5. Paul David, 1997. "Path Dependence and the Quest for Historical Economics: One More chorus of Ballad of QWERTY," Economics Series Working Papers 1997-W20, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  6. Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves," NBER Working Papers 10993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. R. Rees & John Komlos & Ngo V. Long & Ulrich Woitek, 2003. "Optimal food allocation in a slave economy," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 21-36, 02.
  8. repec:cup:jechis:v:60:y:2008:i:01:p:232-246_00 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Voth, Hans-Joachim, 1998. "Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 29-58, March.
  10. Pablo Astorga & Ame R. Bergés & Valpy Fitzgerald, 2003. "Productivity Growth in Latin America during the Twentieth Century," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _052, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  11. Avner Offer, 2000. "Economic Welfare Measurements and Human Well-Being," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _034, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  12. Coelho, Philip R. P. & McGuire, Robert A., 2000. "Diets Versus Diseases: The Anthropometrics of Slave Children," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 232-246, March.
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Cited by:
  1. Trevon D. Logan, 2008. "Health, Human Capital, and African American Migration Before 1910," NBER Working Papers 14037, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jane Humphries, 2006. ""Because they are too menny..." Children, Mothers and Fertility Decline: The Evidence from Working-Class Autobiographies of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _064, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  3. Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves," NBER Working Papers 10993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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