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The Conquest of High Mortality and Hunger in Europe and America: Timing and Mechanisms

  • Robert William Fogel

The modern secular decline in mortality in Western Europe did not begin until the 1780s and the first wave of improvement was over by 1840. The elimination of famines and of crisis mortality played only a secondary role during the first wave of the decline and virtually none thereafter. Reductions in chronic malnutrition Were much more important and may have accounted for most of the improvement in life expectation before 1875. Chronic malnutrition were much more important and may have accounted for most of the improvement in life expectation before 1875. Chronic malnutrition could not have been eliminated merely by more humane national policies, but required major advances in productive technology. Although there Were some improvements in the health, nutritional status, and longevity of the lower classes in England and France between 1830 and the end of the nineteenth century, these advances were modest and unstable, and included some reversals. An even larger reversal occurred among the lower classes in the United States. Although the technological progress, industrialization, and urbanization of the nineteenth century laid the basis for a remarkable advance in health and nutritional status during the first half of the twentieth century their effects on the conditions of life of the lower classes were mixed at least until the 1870s or 1880s. The great gains of the lower classes were concentrated in the sixty-five years between 1890 and 1955. Improvement in nutrition and health may account for as much as 30 percent of the growth in conventionally measured per capita income between 1790 and 1980 in Western Europe, but for a much smaller proportion in the United States.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0016.

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Date of creation: Sep 1990
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Publication status: published as Favorites of Fortune: Technology, Growth, and Economic Development sincethe Industrial Revolution, Higgonet, Patrice, David S. Landes and Henry Rosovsky, eds., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991, pp. 33-71.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0016
Note: DAE
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  1. Sandberg, Lars G. & Steckel, Richard H., 1988. "Overpopulation and malnutrition rediscovered: Hard times in 19th-century Sweden," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 1-19, January.
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  3. Margo, Robert A. & Villaflor, Georgia C., 1987. "The Growth of Wages in Antebellum America: New Evidence," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(04), pages 873-895, December.
  4. Koenker, Roger, 1977. "Was Bread Giffen? The Demand for Food in England Circa 1790," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 59(2), pages 225-29, May.
  5. Shammas, Carole, 1983. "Food Expenditures and Economic Well-Being in Early Modern England," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 89-100, March.
  6. Lindert, Peter H. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1982. "Revising England's social tables 1688-1812," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 385-408, October.
  7. Horton, Susan, 1986. "Child nutrition and family size in the Philippines," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 161-176, September.
  8. John Komlos, . "Stature and Nutrition in the Habsburg Monarchy: The Standard of Living and Economic Development," Articles by John Komlos 36, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
  9. Feinstein, Charles, 1988. "The Rise and Fall of the Williamson Curve," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 48(03), pages 699-729, September.
  10. Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1976. "American Prices and Urban Inequality Since 1820," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 36(02), pages 303-333, June.
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