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Convergence (and divergence) in the biological standard of living in the USA, 1820–1900

  • Areendam Chanda

    (Department of Economics, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA)

  • Lee A. Craig


    (Department of Economics, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-8110, USA)

  • Julianne Treme

    (Department of Economics, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC 27106, USA)

Standard economic indicators suggest that the USA experienced long-run economic growth throughout the nineteenth century. However, biological indicators, including human stature, offer a different picture, rising early in the century, falling (on average) mid-century, and rising again at the end of the century. This pattern varied across geographical regions. Using a unique data set, consisting of mean adult stature by state, we test for convergence in stature among states in the nineteenth century. We find that during the period of declining mean stature (1820–1870), heights actually diverged. Later in the century (1870–1890) we find a type of “negative” convergence indicating that stature among states tended to converge to a new, lower steady state. Only towards the end of the century (1880–1900) do we find classic convergence behavior. We argue that the diversity of economic experiences across regions, including urbanization, industrialization, and transportation improvements, explain this pattern of divergence and then convergence.

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Article provided by Association Française de Cliométrie (AFC) in its journal Cliometrica, Journal of Historical Economics and Econometric History.

Volume (Year): 2 (2008)
Issue (Month): 1 (April)
Pages: 19-48

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Handle: RePEc:afc:cliome:v:2:y:2008:i:1:p:19-48
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