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Measuring misery: Body mass, ageing and gender inequality in Victorian London

  • Horrell, Sara
  • Meredith, David
  • Oxley, Deborah

This paper investigates the proposition made by contemporaries that women and children disproportionately bore the brunt of industrialisation and urbanisation by examining how poor working-class families in mid-Victorian London shared their resources. Allocation is inferred from independently pooled cross-sectional data on the height, weight and body mass of 32,584 prisoners from a London House of Correction. As boys and girls moved into adulthood, they made some biological gains consistent with 'catch up' on earlier deprivation. The body masses of women and men then diverged. When families grew, women shrank. When children left home taking their wages with them, when age reduced the earning capacities of herself and her husband, women suffered even more, becoming dangerously underweight in older age. Ageing was a gendered experience.

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

Volume (Year): 46 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (January)
Pages: 93-119

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Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:46:y:2009:i:1:p:93-119
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