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On the Biological Standard of Living of Eighteenth-Century Americans: Taller, Richer, Healthier

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  • Komlos, John

Abstract

This study analyses the physical stature of runaway apprentices and military deserters based on advertisements collected from 18th-century newspapers, in order to explore the biological welfare of colonial and early-national Americans. The results indicate that heights declined somewhat at mid-century, but increased substantially thereafter. The findings are generally in keeping with trends in mortality and in economic activity. The Americans were much taller than Europeans: by the 1780s adults were as much as 6.6 cm taller than Englishmen, and at age 16 American apprentices were some 12 cm taller than the poor children of London.

Suggested Citation

  • Komlos, John, 2003. "On the Biological Standard of Living of Eighteenth-Century Americans: Taller, Richer, Healthier," Discussion Papers in Economics 53, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:53
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    File URL: https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/53/1/h-usa.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. John Komlos, 1993. "The secular trend in the biological standard of living in the United Kingdom, 1730-1860," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 46(1), pages 115-144, February.
    2. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. John Komlos, 1994. "Stature, Living Standards, and Economic Development: Essays in Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 11.
    4. John Komlos, "undated". "Height and Social Status in Eighteenth-Century Germany," Articles by John Komlos 27, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
    5. Parsons, Donald O & Goldin, Claudia, 1989. "Parental Altruism and Self-Interest: Child Labor among Late Nineteenth-Century American Families," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 27(4), pages 637-659, October.
    6. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Percentiles of Modern Height Standards for Use in Historical Research," NBER Historical Working Papers 0075, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Mancall, Peter C. & Weiss, Thomas, 1999. "Was Ecomomic Growth Likely in Colonial British North America?," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 59(01), pages 17-40, March.
    8. John Komlos & Joo Han Kim, "undated". "Estimating Trends in Historical Heights," Articles by John Komlos 25, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
    9. Chung, Ching-Fan & Goldberger, Arthur S, 1984. "Proportional Projections in Limited Dependent Variable Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 52(2), pages 531-534, March.
    10. Steckel, Richard H., 1979. "Slave height profiles from coastwise manifests," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 363-380, October.
    11. Andrew Chesher, 1997. "Diet Revealed?: Semiparametric Estimation of Nutrient Intake-Age Relationships," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 160(3), pages 389-428.
    12. Robert W. Fogel, 1986. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," NBER Chapters,in: Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, pages 439-556 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    13. Komlos, John, 1998. "Shrinking in a Growing Economy? The Mystery of Physical Stature during the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 779-802, September.
    14. John Komlos, 1995. "The Biological Standard of Living on Three Continents: Further Essays in Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 10.
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    Cited by:

    1. Komlos, John & Baur, Marieluise, 2004. "From the tallest to (one of) the fattest: the enigmatic fate of the American population in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 57-74, March.
    2. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
    3. Komlos, John & Baten, Jörg, 2003. "Looking Backward and Looking Forward: Anthropometric Research and the Development of Social Science History," Discussion Papers in Economics 59, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    4. Komlos, John & Cinnirella, Francesco, 2005. "European Heights in the Early 18th Century," Discussion Papers in Economics 572, University of Munich, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Anthropometrics; Living Standards; 18th century; colonial US;

    JEL classification:

    • N11 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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