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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?

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  • Humphries, Jane
  • Leunig, Timothy

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Humphries, Jane & Leunig, Timothy, 2009. "Was Dick Whittington taller than those he left behind? Anthropometric measures, migration and the quality of life in early nineteenth century London?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 120-131, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:46:y:2009:i:1:p:120-131
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    1. 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.
    2. 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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    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.
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    11. 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, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. Breschi, M. & Fornasin, A. & Manfredini, M. & Mazzoni, S. & Pozzi, L., 2011. "Socioeconomic conditions, health and mortality from birth to adulthood, Alghero 1866-1925," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 366-375, July.
    2. de Beer, Hans, 2016. "The biological standard of living in Suriname, c. 1870–1975," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 22(C), pages 140-154.
    3. Kesztenbaum, Lionel & Rosenthal, Jean-Laurent, 2011. "The health cost of living in a city: The case of France at the end of the 19th century," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 48(2), pages 207-225, April.
    4. Stolz, Yvonne & Baten, Joerg, 2012. "Brain drain in the age of mass migration: Does relative inequality explain migrant selectivity?," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 205-220.
    5. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
    6. Stolz, Yvonne & Baten, Jörg & Botelho, Tarcísio, 2011. "Growth effects of 19th century mass migrations: "Fome Zero" for Brazil," University of Tuebingen Working Papers in Economics and Finance 20, University of Tuebingen, Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Anthropometric history Height Britain London Standard of living Urbanisation Migration Nineteenth century Seamen;

    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925
    • O52 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Europe

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