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Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves

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  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

For over a quarter century anthropometric historians have struggled to identify and measure the numerous factors that affect adult stature, which depends upon diet, disease and physical activity from conception to maturity. I simplify this complex problem by assessing nutritional status in a particular year using synthetic longitudinal data created from measurements of children born in the same year but measured at adjacent ages, which are abundantly available from 28,000 slave manifests housed at the National Archives. I link this evidence with annual measures of economic conditions and new measures of the disease environment to test hypotheses of slave owner behavior. Height-by-age profiles furnish clear evidence that owners substantially managed slave health. The short-term evidence shows that weather affected growth via exposure to pathogens and that owners modified net nutrition in response to sustained price signals.

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  • Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves," NBER Working Papers 10993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10993
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. R. Rees & John Komlos & Ngo V. Long & Ulrich Woitek, 2003. "Optimal food allocation in a slave economy," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 16(1), pages 21-36, February.
    2. Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves," NBER Working Papers 10993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Voth, Hans-Joachim, 1998. "Time and Work in Eighteenth-Century London," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(01), pages 29-58, March.
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    5. Coelho, Philip R. P. & McGuire, Robert A., 2000. "Diets Versus Diseases: The Anthropometrics of Slave Children," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 60(01), pages 232-246, March.
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    7. Tan, Elaine S., 2002. "'The bull is half the herd': property rights and enclosures in England, 1750-1850," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 470-489, October.
    8. Paul A. David, 1997. "Path Dependence and the Quest for Historical Economics: One More chorus of Ballad of QWERTY," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _020, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    9. Pablo Astorga, Ame R. Berges and Valpy FitzGerald, "undated". "The Standard of Living in Latin America During the Twentieth Century," QEH Working Papers qehwps103, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford.
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    1. Richard H. Steckel, 2004. "Fluctuations in a Dreadful Childhood: Synthetic Longitudinal Height Data, Relative Prices and Weather in the Short-Term Health of American Slaves," NBER Working Papers 10993, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Trevon Logan, 2015. "A Time (Not) Apart: A Lesson in Economic History from Cotton Picking Books," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 301-322, December.
    3. Logan, Trevon D., 2009. "Health, human capital, and African-American migration before 1910," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 169-185, April.
    4. Jane Humphries, 2006. ""Because they are too menny..." Children, Mothers and Fertility Decline: The Evidence from Working-Class Autobiographies of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _064, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health

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