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Industrialization and Health in Historical Perspective


  • Richard H. Steckel


This essay discusses recent progress that has been made in understanding the connection between health and industrialization in 8 developed countries. Because earlier efforts have been stymied by lack of reliable measures of mortality, the most recent work utilizes average height obtained from military records. Average heights measure a population's history of net nutrition during the growing years. Based on this measure, health improved uniformly during industrialization in Sweden, but it actually declined for several decades in two countries and generally improved with interruptions in others. Health was inversely correlated with the degree of urbanization across countries and rising urbanization led to health deterioration, especially in England, Australia, and Japan. Public health policy, diets, and business cycles were also important for health during industrialization.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard H. Steckel, 1999. "Industrialization and Health in Historical Perspective," NBER Historical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0118 Note: DAE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. Victor R. Fuchs, 1972. "The Contribution of Health Services to the American Economy," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Health and Medical Care, pages 3-38 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Lars Sandberg & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Was Industrialization Hazardous to Your Health? Not in Sweden!," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 127-160 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Behrman, Jere R & Deolalikar, Anil B, 1987. "Will Developing Country Nutrition Improve with Income? A Case Study for Rural South India," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 95(3), pages 492-507, June.
    5. John Komlos, 1989. "Nutrition and Economic Development in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg Monarchy: An Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 2.
    6. Brinkman, Henk Jan & Drukker, J. W. & Slot, Brigitte, 1988. "Height and income: A new method for the estimation of historical national income series," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 227-264, July.
    7. Richard H. Steckel, 1982. "Height and Per Capita Income," NBER Working Papers 0880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. 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.
    9. J. W. Drukker & Vincent Tassenaar, 1997. "Paradoxes of Modernization and Material Well-Being in the Netherlands during the Nineteenth Century," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 331-378 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Richard H. Steckel & Roderick Floud, 1997. "Health and Welfare during Industrialization," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number stec97-1, January.
    11. repec:ucp:bknber:9780226771564 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. 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.
    13. Joel Mokyr & Cormac Ó Gráda, 1988. "Poor and getting poorer? Living standards in Ireland before the Famine," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 41(2), pages 209-235, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Brainerd, Elizabeth, 2010. "Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 70(01), pages 83-117, March.
    2. Foldvari, Peter & van Leeuwen, Bas & Marks, Daan & Gall, Jozsef, 2013. "Indonesian regional welfare development, 1900–1990: New anthropometric evidence," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 78-89.
    3. Martinez-Carrion, Jose-Miguel & Moreno-Lazaro, Javier, 2007. "Was there an urban height penalty in Spain, 1840-1913?," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 5(1), pages 144-164, March.
    4. Richard H. Steckel, 2001. "Health and Nutrition in the Preindustrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe," NBER Working Papers 8542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Bassino, Jean-Pascal, 2006. "Inequality in Japan (1892-1941): Physical stature, income, and health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 62-88, January.

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