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Health, Height, Nutrition, and Mortality: Evidence on the "Antebellum Puzzle" from Union Army Recruits in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century


  • Michael R. Haines


The Antebellum Puzzle' describes the situation of declining stature and pos mortality in the three decades prior to the American Civil War (1861-65). It is this period was one of rapid economic growth and development in the United State the debate has centered on whether the American diet, both in terms of protein a deteriorated in the middle of the 19th century. But the mortality environment a have worsened (or at least did not improve), connected with factors such as urba commercialization, and increased geographic mobility. This paper uses data on t Union Army recruits as an indicator of the standard of living of Americans durin Particular attention is paid to New York State and comparisons to the rest of th York State, mortality was not improving in the antebellum period and was deterio York City. For the United States and for New York State, urbanization was negat heights, as was the census death rate in 1850 and a measure of mobility (proport population foreign born). Although, New York State's agriculture was rapidly co in this era and specializing in dairy products, its nutrition may have been dete with substantial local variation. Mortality was also not improving and worsened Both contributed to a decline in this biological indicator of the standard of li both New York and the whole United States were experiencing Smithian' economic g (induced by transport improvements and widening markets) with negative externali York State was an area in advance of much of the nation in terms of both urban/i agricultural development in the antebellum period.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael R. Haines, 1998. "Health, Height, Nutrition, and Mortality: Evidence on the "Antebellum Puzzle" from Union Army Recruits in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century," NBER Historical Working Papers 0107, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0107 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Robert William Fogel, 1993. "New Sources and New Techniques for the Study of Secular Trends in Nutritional Status, Health, Mortality, and the Process of Aging," NBER Historical Working Papers 0026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 1997. "Nutritional Status and Agricultural Surpluses in the Antebellum United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. 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.
    4. David, Paul A., 1967. "The Growth of Real Product in the United States Before 1840: New Evidence, Controlled Conjectures," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(02), pages 151-197, June.
    5. Robert E. Gallman, 1992. "American Economic Growth before the Civil War: The Testimony of the Capital Stock Estimates," NBER Chapters,in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 79-120 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Michael Haines, 1979. "The use of model life tables to estimate mortality for the United States in the late nineteenth century," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 16(2), pages 289-312, May.
    7. Margo, Robert A. & Steckel, Richard H., 1983. "Heights of Native-Born Whites During the Antebellum Period," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 43(01), pages 167-174, March.
    8. 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. Scott A. Carson, 2008. "Geography and Insolation in 19th Century US African-American and White Statures," CESifo Working Paper Series 2229, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Henderson, R. Max, 2005. "The bigger the healthier: Are the limits of BMI risk changing over time?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 339-366, December.
    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. Noymer, Andrew, 2009. "Testing the influenza-tuberculosis selective mortality hypothesis with Union Army data," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 68(9), pages 1599-1608, May.
    5. Scott A. Carson, 2008. "Demographic, Residential, and Socioeconomic Effects on the Distribution of 19th Century African-American Stature," CESifo Working Paper Series 2479, CESifo Group Munich.
    6. Michael R. Haines, 2001. "The Urban Mortality Transition in the United States, 1800-1940," NBER Historical Working Papers 0134, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Jörg Baten, 2002. "Did Partial Globalization Increase Inequality? Did Inequality Stimulate Globalization Backlash? The case of the Latin American Periphery, 1950-80," CESifo Working Paper Series 683, CESifo Group Munich.
    8. repec:eee:streco:v:41:y:2017:i:c:p:43-52 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Komlos, John, 2003. "How to (and How Not to) Analyze Deficient Height Samples," Discussion Papers in Economics 56, University of Munich, Department of Economics.

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