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Was Dick Whittington taller than those he left behind? Anthropometric measures, migration and the quality of life in early nineteenth century London?

  • Humphries, Jane
  • Leunig, Timothy

Using a new source of evidence we explore the mobility of mid-nineteenth century seamen. Among seamen born outside London, the tall, the literate and those who could remember the exact day, month and year when they were born, characteristics that we suggest mark them out as men with more choices in life, were more likely to migrate to London. Contrary to what might be inferred from contemporary descriptions of urban disamenities or from persistent differentials in mortality, London appears as a desirable destination for those who could choose. The conclusion must be that London was not so bad, and we should adjust our perception of the problems of urbanisation accordingly, with implications for the wider debate on the standard of living during the industrial revolution. The paper's methodological interest is the use of height as an explanatory variable in the analysis of migration. Although correlated with other variables that are routinely used in anthropometric studies to indicate life chances, such as literacy and the ability to know and recall date of birth, height has empirical advantages over these alternatives in that it exhibits higher levels of significance. Moreover while literacy and heaping are in essence binary variables, height is a (near) continuous one, and one that allows us to test for linear and non-linear responses, as we do with interesting results in this paper. Perhaps the most fruitful use of height in historical analyses may turn out to be as an explanatory variable; at the very least such a research strategy provides anthropometric historians with further opportunities.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Explorations in Economic History.

Volume (Year): 46 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 120-131

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:46:y:2009:i:1:p:120-131
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/622830

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  1. Thomas, Duncan & Strauss, John, 1997. "Health and wages: Evidence on men and women in urban Brazil," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 77(1), pages 159-185, March.
  2. Long, Jason, 2005. "Rural-Urban Migration and Socioeconomic Mobility in Victorian Britain," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(01), pages 1-35, March.
  3. Arora, Suchit, 2001. "Health, Human Productivity, And Long-Term Economic Growth," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(03), pages 699-749, September.
  4. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
  5. Hunt, E. H., 1986. "Industrialization and Regional Inequality: Wages in Britain, 1760–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(04), pages 935-966, December.
  6. Hans-Joachim Voth & Timothy Leunig, 1996. "Did smallpox reduce height? Stature and the standard of living in London, 1770-1873," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 49(3), pages 541-560, 08.
  7. Boyer, George R., 1997. "Labour migration in southern and eastern England, 1861 1901," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(02), pages 191-215, August.
  8. Nicholas, Stephen & Steckel, Richard H., 1991. "Heights and Living Standards of English Workers During the Early Years of Industrializations, 1770–1815," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 51(04), pages 937-957, December.
  9. George R. Boyer & Timothy J. Hatton, 1997. "Migration and Labour Market Integration in Late Nineteenth-Century England and Wales," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 50(4), pages 697-734, November.
  10. Horrell, Sara & Humphries, Jane & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2001. "Destined for Deprivation: Human Capital Formation and Intergenerational Poverty in Nineteenth-Century England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 339-365, July.
  11. Jane Humphries & Tim Leunig, 2007. "Cities, Market Integration and Going to Sea: Stunting and the Standard of Living in Early Nineteenth-Century England and Wales," Economics Series Working Papers 2007-W66, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
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