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Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality Since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings

  • Robert W. Fogel

This paper uses the data in the NBER/CPE pilot sample of genealogies to create a new time series on life expectation in the U.S. since 1720. After attaining remarkably high levels toward the end of the eighteenth century, life expectation as measured by e0(10) began a decline that lasted about 80 years before beginning the new rise with which we have long been familiar. Second, time series on the average adult stature of national populations in North America and Europe are used as a measure of nutritional status. The properties of this measure in the analysis of labor welfare and an explanation for the high correlation between stature and the Cini ratio are discussed.The time series on stature is strongly correlated with the series on e0(10) and other measures of mortality. Third, these correlations are used to estimate the contribution of improvements in nutritional status (not diet alone but diet net of prior claims) to the decline in mortality in Europe and America since 1800. Improvements in nutritional status may have accounted for as ifiuch as four tenths of the decline in mortality rates, but nearly all of this effect was concentrated in the reduction of infant mortality. The new findings are used to resolve several paradoxes and the implication of the findings for the standard-of-living controversy are considered.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 1402.

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Date of creation: Jul 1984
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Fogel, Robert William. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, Income and Welath Conference Volume 51, ed. by S.L. Engerman and R.E. Gallman, Chicago: UCP (1986).
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:1402
Note: DAE HE
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  1. Higgs, Robert, 1973. "Mortality in rural America, 1870-1920: Estimates and conjectures," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 177-195.
  2. Gallman, Robert E., 1982. "Influences on the Distribution of Landholdings in Early Colonial North Carolina," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 42(03), pages 549-575, September.
  3. Michael Haines, 1979. "The use of model life tables to estimate mortality for the United States in the late nineteenth century," Demography, Springer, vol. 16(2), pages 289-312, May.
  4. Meeker, Edward, 1976. "Mortality trends of southern blacks, 1850-1910: Some preliminary findings," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 13-42, January.
  5. Pollard, Sidney, 1981. "Sheffield and Sweet Auburn—Amenities and Living Standards in the British Industrial Revolution: A Comment," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 41(04), pages 902-904, December.
  6. Haines, Michael R., 1985. "Inequality and Childhood Mortality: a Comparison of England and Wales, 1911, and the United States, 1900," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 45(04), pages 885-912, December.
  7. Gretchen Condran & Rose Cheney, 1982. "Mortality trends in Philadelphia: Age- and cause-specific death rates 1870–1930," Demography, Springer, vol. 19(1), pages 97-123, February.
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