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Fertility Decline and the Heights of Children in Britain, 1886-1938

  • Timothy J. Hatton
  • Richard M. Martin

In this paper we argue that the fertility decline that began around 1880 had substantial positive effects on the health of children, as the quality-quantity trade-off would suggest. We use microdata from a unique survey from 1930s Britain to analyze the relationship between the standardized heights of children and the number of children in the family. Our results suggest that heights are influenced positively by family income per capita and negatively by the number of children or the degree of crowding in the household. The evidence suggests that family size affected the health of children through its influence on both nutrition and disease. Applying our results to long-term trends, we find that rising household income and falling family size contributed significantly to improving child health between 1886 and 1938. Between 1906 and 1938 these variables account for nearly half of the increase in heights, and much of this effect is due to falling family size. We conclude that the fertility decline is a neglected source of the rapid improvement in health in the first half of the twentieth century.

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File URL: http://cbe.anu.edu.au/researchpapers/cepr/DP613.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 613.

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Date of creation: Jul 2009
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Handle: RePEc:auu:dpaper:613
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  1. Hatton, Timothy J., 2010. "Infant Mortality and the Health of Survivors: Britain 1910-1950," CEPR Discussion Papers 7841, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Robert Millward & Frances Bell, 2001. "Infant Mortality in Victorian Britain: The Mother as Medium[Thanks are]," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 54(4), pages 699-733, November.
  3. Booth, Alison L. & Kee, Hiau Joo, 2005. "Birth Order Matters: The Effect of Family Size and Birth Order on Educational Attainment," IZA Discussion Papers 1713, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Ian Gazeley & Andrew Newell, 2007. "Poverty In Britain In 1904: An Early Social Survey Rediscovered," PRUS Working Papers 38, Poverty Research Unit at Sussex, University of Sussex.
  5. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
  6. Richard H. Steckel & Roderick Floud, 1997. "Health and Welfare during Industrialization," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number stec97-1, December.
  7. Hatton, Timothy J. & Martin, Richard M., 2008. "The Effects on Stature of Poverty, Family Size and Birth Order: British Children in the 1930s," IZA Discussion Papers 3314, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  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, .
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  10. Samuel H. Preston & Michael R. Haines, 1991. "Fatal Years: Child Mortality in Late Nineteenth-Century America," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number pres91-1, December.
  11. 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.
  12. Peter Scott, 2008. "Did owner-occupation lead to smaller families for interwar working-class households? -super-1," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 61(1), pages 99-124, 02.
  13. Millward, Robert & Bell, Frances N., 1998. "Economic factors in the decline of mortality in late nineteenth century Britain," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(03), pages 263-288, December.
  14. Gazeley, Ian & Newell, Andrew T., 2009. "The End of Destitution," IZA Discussion Papers 4295, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Richard H. Steckel, 2008. "Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions," NBER Working Papers 14536, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Whitwell & Christine de Souza & Stephen Nicholas, 1997. "Height, Health, and Economic Growth in Australia, 1860-1940," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 379-422 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Weir, David R., 1993. "Parental Consumption Decisions and Child Health During the Early French Fertility Decline, 1790–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(02), pages 259-274, June.
  18. Paul Johnson & Stephen Nicholas, 1997. "Health and Welfare of Women in the United Kingdom, 1785-1920," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 201-250 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Cage, R A & Foster, John, 2002. "Overcrowding and Infant Mortality: A Tale of Two Cities," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 49(2), pages 129-49, May.
  20. Richard H. Steckel & Roderick Floud, 1997. "Introduction to "Health and Welfare during Industrialization"," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 1-16 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  21. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521004886 is not listed on IDEAS
  22. Roderick Floud & Kenneth Wachter & Annabel Gregory, 1990. "Height, Health, and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750-1980," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number flou90-1, December.
  23. Timothy J. Hatton, 2011. "Infant mortality and the health of survivors: Britain, 1910–50," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 64(3), pages 951-972, 08.
  24. Mokyr, Joel, 2000. "Why “More Work for Mother?” Knowledge and Household Behavior, 1870–1945," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 1-41, March.
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