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Development, Health, Nutrition, and Mortality: The Case of the 'Antebellum Puzzle' in the United States

  • Michael R. Haines
  • Lee A. Craig
  • Thomas Weiss

The Antebellum Puzzle' describes the situation of declining stature and rising mortality in the three decades prior to the American Civil War (1861-65). It is labeled a puzzle, since this period was one of rapid economic growth and development in the United States. Much of the debate regarding this puzzle has centered on whether the American diet, both in terms of protein and caloric intake in the mid-nineteenth century. But the mortality environment also appears to have worsened (or at least failed to improve), a situation associated with rapid urbanization, commercialization, transport improvement, and increased geographic mobility. The disease environment was being nationalized and internationalized. This paper analyzes the relationship between local agricultural surpluses, nutritional status, mortality conditions, and adult heights. Employing a sample of the muster records of Union Army recruits (1861-65) as well as data from the published population and agricultural censuses of 1840 and mortality data from the 1850 census of population, it tests the hypothesis that adult height is positively correlated with local production of nutrients in early childhood and negatively correlated with local mortality conditions, urbanization, proximity to transport, and population mobility. Results indicate that, although the United States was experiencing robust Smithian' economic growth induced by transport improvements and widening markets nation was also suffering from serious negative externalities which affected the health and longevity of the population.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/h0130.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Historical Working Papers with number 0130.

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Date of creation: Oct 2000
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0130
Note: DAE
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  1. Peter H. Lindert, . "Three Centuries Of Inequality In Britain And America," Department of Economics 97-09, California Davis - Department of Economics.
  2. 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.
  3. Robert A. Margo, 1992. "Wages and Prices during the Antebellum Period: A Survey and New Evidence," NBER Chapters, in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 173-216 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. John Komlos, . "The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America," Articles by John Komlos 32, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
  5. Craig, Lee A & Palmquist, Raymond B & Weiss, Thomas, 1998. "Transportation Improvements and Land Values in the Antebellum United States: A Hedonic Approach," The Journal of Real Estate Finance and Economics, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 173-89, March.
  6. Richard H. Steckel, 1992. "Stature and Living Standards in the United States," NBER Chapters, in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 265-310 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Gallman, Robert E., 1996. "Dietary Change in Antebellum America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 56(01), pages 193-201, March.
  8. Komlos, John & Coclanis, Peter, 1997. "On the Puzzling Cycle in the Biological Standard of Living: The Case of Antebellum Georgia," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 433-459, October.
  9. Simon Szreter & Graham Mooney, 1998. "Urbanization, Mortality, and the Standard of Living Debate: New Estimates of the Expectation of Life at Birth in Nineteenth-century British Cities," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 51(1), pages 84-112, 02.
  10. 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.
  11. Peter Lindert & Wen Hai & Shunli Yao, 2003. "Three Centuries Of Inequality In Britain And America," Working Papers 979, University of California, Davis, Department of Economics.
  12. 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.
  13. Thomas J. Weiss, 1992. "U. S. Labor Force Estimates and Economic Growth, 1800-1860," NBER Chapters, in: American Economic Growth and Standards of Living before the Civil War, pages 19-78 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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