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The Physiological Foundations of the Wealth of Nations

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  • Carl-Johan Dalgaard

    (Department of Economics, University of Copenhagen)

  • Holger Strulik

    (University of Hannover)

Abstract

Evidence from economics, anthropology and biology testifies to a fundamental trade-off between the number of offspring (quantity) and amount of nutrition per child (quality). This leads to a theory of pre-industrial growth where body size as well as population size is endogenous. But when productive quality investments are undertaken the historical constancy of income per capita seems puzzling. Why didn't episodes of rising income instigate a virtuous circle of rising body size and productivity? To address this question we propose that societies are subject to a “physiological check”: if human body size rises, metabolic needs - our conceptualization of “subsistence requirements” - rise. This mechanism turns out to be instrumental in explaining why income growth does not take hold and societies remain near an endogenously determined subsistence boundary. When we use the theory to shed light on pre-industrial cross-country income differences we find that 60-70% of the income differences in 1500 can plausibly be accounted for by variations in subsistence requirements.

Suggested Citation

  • Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Holger Strulik, 2010. "The Physiological Foundations of the Wealth of Nations," Discussion Papers 10-05, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:kud:kuiedp:1005
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    Cited by:

    1. Oded Galor & Marc Klemp, 2014. "The Biocultural Origins of Human Capital Formation," Working Papers 2014-6, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    2. Mark E. McGovern & Aditi Krishna & Victor M. Aguayo & S.V. Subramanian, 2017. "A Review of the Evidence Linking Child Stunting to Economic Outcomes," CHaRMS Working Papers 17-03, Centre for HeAlth Research at the Management School (CHaRMS).
    3. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2011. "Dynamics and Stagnation in the Malthusian Epoch," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 2003-2041, August.
    4. Quamrul Ashraf & Oded Galor, 2013. "The 'Out of Africa' Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 1-46, February.
    5. Oded Galor & Ömer Özak, 2016. "The Agricultural Origins of Time Preference," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 106(10), pages 3064-3103, October.
    6. Oded Galor & Quamrul Ashraf, 2008. "Human Genetic Diversity and Comparative Economic Development," Working Papers 2008-3, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    7. Sara LaLumia & James Sallee, 2013. "The value of honesty: empirical estimates from the case of the missing children," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer;International Institute of Public Finance, vol. 20(2), pages 192-224, April.
    8. Guzmán, Ricardo Andrés & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2011. "The Neolithic Revolution from a price-theoretic perspective," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(2), pages 209-219, November.
    9. Abeliansky, Ana Lucia & Strulik, Holger, 2017. "Hungry children age faster," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 322, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    10. Strulik, Holger, 2016. "Myopic misery: Maternal depression, child investments, and the neurobiological poverty trap," Center for European, Governance and Economic Development Research Discussion Papers 294, University of Goettingen, Department of Economics.
    11. Holger Strulik, 2014. "Knowledge And Growth In The Very Long Run," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 55, pages 459-482, May.
    12. Focacci, Antonio, 2017. "Controversial curves of the economy: An up-to-date investigation of long waves," Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 271-285.
    13. Oded Galor & Viacheslav Savitskiy, 2018. "Climatic Roots of Loss Aversion," Working Papers 2018-1, Brown University, Department of Economics.
    14. Sharp, Paul & Strulik, Holger & Weisdorf, Jacob, 2012. "The determinants of income in a Malthusian equilibrium," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 97(1), pages 112-117.
    15. Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Casper Worm Hansen, 2015. "Climate Shocks and (very) Long-Run Productivity," Discussion Papers 15-15, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    16. Patricia Beeson & Tara Watson & Lara Shore-Sheppard, 2010. "Local Fiscal Policies and Urban Wage Structures," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-05, Department of Economics, Williams College.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Malthusian stagnation; Subsistence; Nutrition; Body size; Population growth;

    JEL classification:

    • O11 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Macroeconomic Analyses of Economic Development
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth

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