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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 Steckel

    (Economics, Anthropology, and History Departments, Ohio State University, Research Association, NBER, and Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford)

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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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford in its series Oxford University Economic and Social History Series with number _058.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: 01 Apr 2005
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nuf:esohwp:_058

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Web page: http://www.nuff.ox.ac.uk/economics/

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  1. Tan, Elaine S., 2002. "'The bull is half the herd': property rights and enclosures in England, 1750-1850," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 470-489, October.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Valpy Fitzgerald & Pablo Astorga, 2003. "Productivity Growth in Latin America during the Twentieth Century," Economics Series Working Papers 2003-W52, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  5. Paul A. David, 1997. "Path Dependence and the Quest for Historical Economics: One More chorus of Ballad of QWERTY," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _020, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  6. Hans-Joachim Voth, 1997. "Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London," Economics Series Working Papers 1997-W21, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
  7. 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.
  8. repec:cup:jechis:v:60:y:2008:i:01:p:232-246_00 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Richard Steckel, 2005. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic longitudinal height data, relative prices, and weather in the short-term health of american slaves," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _058, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  10. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "Birth weights and infant mortality among American slaves," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 173-198, April.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
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Cited by:
  1. Logan, Trevon D., 2009. "Health, human capital, and African-American migration before 1910," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 169-185, April.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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