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Caveat Lector: Sample Selection in Historical Heights and the Interpretation of Early Industrializing Economies

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  • Howard Bodenhorn
  • Timothy Guinnane
  • Thomas Mroz

Abstract

Much of the research on height in historical populations relies on convenience samples. A crucial question with convenience samples is whether the sample accurately reflects the characteristics of the population; if not, then estimated parameters will be affected by sample selection bias. This paper applies a simple test for selection biased developed in Bodenhorn, Guinnane, and Mroz (2013) to several historical samples of prisoners, freed slaves, and college students. We reject the hypothesis of no selection bias in all cases. Using Roy's (1951) model of occupational choice, we interpret these findings as reflecting the economic forces that lead individuals to take the actions the led to inclusion in the sample. Our findings suggest that much of the evidence on the "industrialization puzzle" during the nineteenth century could reflect changing selection into the samples rather than changes in population heights.

Suggested Citation

  • Howard Bodenhorn & Timothy Guinnane & Thomas Mroz, 2014. "Caveat Lector: Sample Selection in Historical Heights and the Interpretation of Early Industrializing Economies," NBER Working Papers 19955, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:19955
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    Cited by:

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    5. Matthias Blum & Christopher L. Colvin & Laura McAtackney & Eoin McLaughlin, 2017. "Women of an uncertain age: quantifying human capital accumulation in rural Ireland in the nineteenth century," Economic History Review, Economic History Society, vol. 70(1), pages 187-223, February.
    6. Doran, Áine, 2021. "A poor inquiry: Poverty and living standards in pre-famine Ireland," QUCEH Working Paper Series 2021-01, Queen's University Belfast, Queen's University Centre for Economic History.
    7. Kris Inwood & Hamish Maxwell-Stewart & Deb Oxley, 2015. "Growing incomes, growing people in nineteenth-century Tasmania," CEH Discussion Papers 038, Centre for Economic History, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.

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    JEL classification:

    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N31 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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