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The Effects on Stature of Poverty, Family Size and Birth Order: British Children in the 1930s

  • Timothy J. Hatton
  • Richard M. Martin

This paper examines effects of socio-economic conditions on the standardised heights and body mass index of children in Interwar Britain. It uses the Boyd Orr cohort, a survey of predominantly poor families taken in 1937-9, which provides a unique opportunity to explore the determinants of child health in the era before the welfare state. We examine the trade-off between the quality (in the form of health outcomes) and the number of children in the family at a time when genuine poverty still existed in Britain. Our results provide strong support both for negative birth order effects and negative family size effects on the heights of children. No such effects are found for the body mass index (BMI). We find that household income per capita positively influences the heights of children but, even after accounting for this, the number of children in the family still has a negative effect on height. This latter effect is closely associated with overcrowding and particularly with the degree of cleanliness or hygiene in the household, which conditions exposure to factors predisposing to disease. We also analyse evidence collected retrospectively, which indicates that the effects of childhood conditions on height persisted into adulthood.

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File URL: http://cbe.anu.edu.au/researchpapers/cepr/DP572.pdf
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Paper provided by Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 572.

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Date of creation: Feb 2008
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Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:572
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  1. Alison Booth & Hiau Joo Kee, 2005. "Birth Order Matters: The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Educational Attainment," CEPR Discussion Papers 506, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  2. Mette Ejrnæs & Claus C. Pörtner, 2004. "Birth Order and the Intrahousehold Allocation of Time and Education," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(4), pages 1008-1019, November.
  3. Sandra E. Black & Paul J. Devereux & Kjell G. Salvanes, 2005. "The More the Merrier? The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Children's Education," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(2), pages 669-700, May.
  4. Gary S. Becker & Nigel Tomes, 1976. "Child Endowments, and the Quantity and Quality of Children," NBER Working Papers 0123, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Behrman, Jere R., 1988. "Nutrition, health, birth order and seasonality : Intrahousehold allocation among children in rural India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 43-62, February.
  6. Carlos Bozzoli & Angus Deaton & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2007. "Child mortality, income and adult height," Working Papers 230, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  7. Horton, Susan, 1988. "Birth Order and Child Nutritional Status: Evidence from the Philippines," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(2), pages 341-54, January.
  8. Becker, Gary S & Lewis, H Gregg, 1973. "On the Interaction between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(2), pages S279-88, Part II, .
  9. Thomas, D., 1995. "Like Father, Like Son, Like Mother, Like Daughter, Parental Resources and Child Height," Papers 95-01, RAND - Reprint Series.
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