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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

  • Jane Humphries
  • Tim Leunig

Using a new source of evidence we explore the geographical 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 innovation 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 recall date of birth, height has many advantages over these alternatives in that it exhibits higher levels of significance, and is more flexible. 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 fresh opportunities.

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File URL: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/22317/
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Paper provided by London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History in its series Economic History Working Papers with number 22317.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: May 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22317
Contact details of provider: Postal: LSE, Dept. of Economic History Houghton Street London, WC2A 2AE, U.K.
Phone: +44 (0) 20 7955 7084
Web page: http://www.lse.ac.uk/economicHistory/

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  1. J.Humphries & T. Leunig, 2007. "Cities, Market Integration and Going to Sea: Stunting and the standard of living in early nineteenth-century England and Wales," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _066, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  2. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Hans-Joachim Voth & Tim Leunig, 1996. "Did smallpox reduce height?: stature and the standard of living in London, 1770-1873," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 497, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  6. Boyer, George R., 1997. "Labour migration in southern and eastern England, 1861 1901," European Review of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 1(02), pages 191-215, August.
  7. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521364805 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Horrell, Sara & Humphries, Jane & Voth, Hans-Joachim, 2001. "Destined for Deprivation: Human Capital Formation and Intergenerational Poverty in Nineteenth-Century England," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 339-365, July.
  9. Arora, Suchit, 2001. "Health, Human Productivity, And Long-Term Economic Growth," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 61(03), pages 699-749, September.
  10. Long, Jason, 2005. "Rural-Urban Migration and Socioeconomic Mobility in Victorian Britain," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 65(01), pages 1-35, March.
  11. Hunt, E. H., 1986. "Industrialization and Regional Inequality: Wages in Britain, 1760–1914," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(04), pages 935-966, December.
  12. Thomas, D. & Strauss, J., 1997. "Health and Wages: Evidence on Men and Women in Urban Brazil," Papers 97-05, RAND - Reprint Series.
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