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


  • Hatton, Timothy J.

    () (University of Essex)

  • Martin, Richard M.

    () (University of Bristol)


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.

Suggested Citation

  • 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).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3314

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alison Booth & Hiau Kee, 2009. "Birth order matters: the effect of family size and birth order on educational attainment," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 22(2), pages 367-397, April.
    2. Becker, Gary S & Tomes, Nigel, 1976. "Child Endowments and the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 84(4), pages 143-162, August.
    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, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(2), pages 669-700.
    4. 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 341-354, January.
    5. 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 279-288, Part II, .
    6. Duncan Thomas, 1994. "Like Father, like Son; Like Mother, like Daughter: Parental Resources and Child Height," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 29(4), pages 950-988.
    7. 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.
    8. Carlos Bozzoli & Angus Deaton & Climent Quintana-Domeque, 2007. "Child mortality, income and adult height," Working Papers 162, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
    9. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alan Fernihough, 2011. "Human Capital and the Quantity-Quality Trade-Off during the Demographic Transition: New Evidence from Ireland," Working Papers 201113, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    2. Sylvia Frühwirth-Schnatter & Martin Halla & Alexandra Posekany & Gerald J. Pruckner & Thomas Schober, 2014. "The Quantity and Quality of Children: A Semi-Parametric Bayesian IV Approach," Economics working papers 2014-03, Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria.
    3. repec:eme:rehizz:s0363-326820160000032005 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Black, Sandra E. & Devereux, Paul J. & Salvanes, Kjell G., 2016. "Healthy(?), wealthy, and wise: Birth order and adult health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 27-45.
    5. Hatton, Timothy J., 2015. "Stature and Sibship: Historical Evidence," CEPR Discussion Papers 10675, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Eric B. Schneider, 2016. "Health, Gender and the Household: Children’s Growth in the Marcella Street Home, Boston, MA, and the Ashford School, London, UK," Research in Economic History,in: Research in Economic History, volume 32, pages 277-361 Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    7. Hatton, Timothy J. & Martin, Richard M., 2010. "Fertility decline and the heights of children in Britain, 1886-1938," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 505-519, October.
    8. Datar, Ashlesha, 2017. "The more the heavier? Family size and childhood obesity in the U.S," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 180(C), pages 143-151.
    9. Martine Mariotti, 2015. "Fathers' Employment and Sons' Stature: The Long-Run Effects of a Positive Regional Employment Shock in South Africa's Mining Industry," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(3), pages 485-514.
    10. Laura Valadez Martinez, 2014. "Bridging the Gap: Conceptual and Empirical Dimensions of Child Wellbeing in Rural Mexico," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 116(2), pages 567-591, April.
    11. Alan Fernihough, 2017. "Human capital and the quantity–quality trade-off during the demographic transition," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 22(1), pages 35-65, March.
    12. Martine Mariotti, 2012. "Living Standards In South Africa’s Former Homelands," ANU Working Papers in Economics and Econometrics 2012-570, Australian National University, College of Business and Economics, School of Economics.
    13. Fernihough, Alan, 2017. "Less is More? The child quantity-quality trade-off in early 20th century England and Wales," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2017-07, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.

    More about this item


    heights; child health; poverty;

    JEL classification:

    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being

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