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A Three-Decade “Kuhnian” History of the Antebellum Puzzle: Explaining the shrinking of the US population at the onset of modern economic growth

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  • Komlos, John

Abstract

In 1979, when anthropometric history was still in its infancy, Robert Fogel and collaborators reported that the height of the US male white population began to decline quite unexpectedly around the birth cohorts of 1830. This was quite a conundrum on account of the fact that according to conventional economic theory nutritional status was not expected to diminish at the outset of modern economic growth, i.e., at a time when incomes were growing robustly. Although many hypotheses were offered, not until 1987 was the comprehensive solution to the puzzle offered that the height decline was due primarily to a decline in food consumption: agricultural productivity did not keep pace with rapid population growth and urbanization. However, it took a third of a century for a Kuhnian paradigm shift to occur until most of the participants in the debate accepted the model elucidated by Komlos in 1987.

Suggested Citation

  • Komlos, John, 2012. "A Three-Decade “Kuhnian” History of the Antebellum Puzzle: Explaining the shrinking of the US population at the onset of modern economic growth," Discussion Papers in Economics 12758, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:12758
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Bodenhorn, Howard & Guinnane, Timothy W. & Mroz, Thomas A., 2017. "Sample-Selection Biases and the Industrialization Puzzle," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 171-207, March.
    3. Michał Kopczyński & Mateusz Rodak, 2021. "The Polish interbella puzzle: the biological standard of living in the Second Polish Republic, 1918–39 †," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 74(1), pages 181-203, February.
    4. Nicola Amendola & Giacomo Gabbuti & Giovanni Vecchi, 2021. "On Some Problems of Using the Human Development Index in Economic History," LEM Papers Series 2021/42, Laboratory of Economics and Management (LEM), Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy.
    5. Wilson, Sven E., 2019. "Does adult height predict later mortality?: Comparative evidence from the Early Indicators samples in the United States," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 274-285.
    6. Sunder, Marco, 2013. "The height gap in 19th-century America: Net-nutritional advantage of the elite increased at the onset of modern economic growth," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 245-258.
    7. Scott Alan Carson, 2020. "Net nutrition, insolation, mortality, and the antebellum paradox," Journal of Bioeconomics, Springer, vol. 22(2), pages 77-98, July.
    8. Nicola Amendola & Giacomo Gabbuti & Giovanni Vecchi, 2018. "On the use of composite indices in economic history. Lessons from Italy, 1861-2017," HHB Working Papers Series 11, The Historical Household Budgets Project.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Anthropometric history; Heights; Thomas Kuhn; Paradigm shift; USA; Antebellum Puzzle; Living Standards;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • B20 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - General
    • B25 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary; Austrian; Stockholm School
    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General

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