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What Can Be Learned from Skeletons that Might Interest Economists, Historians and Other Social Scientists?

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

Economists and other scholars have long sought to measure and analyze long-term trends and differences in social performance. Average stature supplements and lengthens data series on traditional measures of life expectancy and real GDP per capita. This paper presents a methodology for using skeletal remains to greatly extend the chronological and cultural reach of anthropometric measures. Bones are widely available for study and unlike stature, they portray health over the life cycle, depicting both childhood and processes of aging and degeneration. The paper briefly explains seven skeletal measures widely used in physical anthropology and discusses procedures for summarizing community health in the form of an index. Results are based on a sample of over 12,000 individuals who lived at 65 localities in the Western Hemisphere over the past several millennia. Results challenge conceptions of the pre-Columbian disease environment, and the methods can be used to test models of very long-term economic growth and to study important aspects of human welfare during climate change.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9519.

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Date of creation: Mar 2003
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Publication status: published as Steckel, Richard H. "What Can Be Learned From Skeletons That Might Interest Economists, Historians, And Other Social Scientists?," American Economic Review, 2003, v93(2,May),213-220.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9519

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  1. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
  2. Gary D. Hansen & Edward C. Prescott, 1999. "Malthus to Solow," Staff Report 257, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
  3. David N. Weil & Oded Galor, 2000. "Population, Technology, and Growth: From Malthusian Stagnation to the Demographic Transition and Beyond," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 806-828, September.
  4. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer, vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
  5. Jeffrey D. Sachs, 2001. "Tropical Underdevelopment," NBER Working Papers 8119, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Richard H. Steckel, 2008. "Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions," NBER Working Papers 14536, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Godoy, Ricardo & Reyes-Garcia, Victoria & Huanca, Tomas & Tanner, Susan & Leonard, William R. & McDade, Thomas & Vadez, Vincent, 2005. "Do smiles have a face value? Panel evidence from Amazonian Indians," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 469-490, August.

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