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

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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Horrell, Sara & Meredith, David & Oxley, Deborah, 2009. "Measuring misery: Body mass, ageing and gender inequality in Victorian London," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 93-119, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:exehis:v:46:y:2009:i:1:p:93-119
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Errata dentata: The History Manifesto Revisited
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2015-04-13 17:41:48
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      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2014-11-11 01:36:40

    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. David Meredith & Deborah Oxley, 2013. "Blood and Bone: Body Mass, Gender and Health Inequality in 19th Century British Families," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _118, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    3. Schneider, Eric B., 2013. "Real wages and the family: Adjusting real wages to changing demography in pre-modern England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 99-115.
    4. Aldashev, Gani & Guirkinger, Catherine, 2012. "Deadly anchor: Gender bias under Russian colonization of Kazakhstan," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 49(4), pages 399-422.

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