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

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

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael R. Haines & Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 2000. "Development, Health, Nutrition, and Mortality: The Case of the 'Antebellum Puzzle' in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberhi:0130
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Lindert, Peter H., 2000. "Three centuries of inequality in Britain and America," Handbook of Income Distribution,in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 3, pages 167-216 Elsevier.
    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. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. Komlos, John, 1987. "The Height and Weight of West Point Cadets: Dietary Change in Antebellum America," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 47(04), pages 897-927, December.
    11. 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, February.
    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. 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 173-189, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joseph P. Ferrie, 2003. "The Rich and the Dead. Socioeconomic Status and Mortality in the United States, 1850-1860," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 11-50 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Joseph P. Ferrie, 2001. "The Poor and the Dead: Socioeconomic Status and Mortality in the U.S., 1850-1860," NBER Historical Working Papers 0135, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Dora L. Costa, 2015. "Health and the Economy in the United States from 1750 to the Present," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 53(3), pages 503-570, September.
    4. Salvatore, Ricardo D., 2004. "Stature decline and recovery in a food-rich export economy: Argentina 1900-1934," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 41(3), pages 233-255, July.
    5. Dora L. Costa & Heather DeSomer & Eric Hanss & Christopher Roudiez & Sven E. Wilson & Noelle Yetter, 2017. "Union Army veterans, all grown up," Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 50(2), pages 79-95, April.
    6. Alan L. Olmstead & Paul W. Rhode, 2011. "Responding to Climatic Challenges: Lessons from U.S. Agricultural Development," NBER Chapters,in: The Economics of Climate Change: Adaptations Past and Present, pages 169-194 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Sven Wilson & Clayne L. Pope, 2003. "The Height of Union Army Recruits. Family and Community Influences," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 113-146 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Costa, Dora L., 2004. "The Measure of Man and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Gould Sample," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 64(01), pages 1-23, March.
    9. 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.
    10. Chen Song & Louis Nguyen, 2003. "The Effect of Hernias on the Labor Force Participation of Union Army Veterans," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 253-310 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Sharmistha Self & Richard Grabowski, 2003. "How effective is public health expenditure in improving overall health? A cross-country analysis," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 35(7), pages 835-845.
    12. Charles Kenny, 2006. "Were People in the Past Poor and Miserable?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 59(2), pages 275-306, May.

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