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Poor, hungry and ignorant: Numeracy and the impact of high food prices in industrializing Britain, 1780-1850

  • Jörg Baten
  • Dorothee Crayen
  • Joachim Voth

This paper uses the ability to recall one’s age correctly as an indicator of numeracy. We show that low levels of nutrition impaired numeracy in industrializing England, 1780-1850. Numeracy declined markedly among those born during the war years, especially where wheat was dear. England’s nascent welfare state mitigated the negative effect of high food prices on cognitive skills. Nutrition during early development mattered for labor market outcomes: individuals born in periods or countries with high age heaping were more likely to sort into occupations with limited intellectual requirements.

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File URL: http://www.econ.upf.edu/docs/papers/downloads/1120.pdf
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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 1120.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
Date of revision: Dec 2011
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:1120
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2003. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-036, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
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  7. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-95, June.
  8. A'Hearn, Brian & Baten, Jörg & Crayen, Dorothee, 2009. "Quantifying Quantitative Literacy: Age Heaping and the History of Human Capital," CEPR Discussion Papers 7277, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  9. Jeffrey S. Zax & Daniel I. Rees, 2002. "IQ, Academic Performance, Environment, and Earnings," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 84(4), pages 600-616, November.
  10. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
  11. Boyer, George R., 1986. "The Old Poor Law and the Agricultural Labor Market in Southern England: An Empirical Analysis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(01), pages 113-135, March.
  12. Komlos, John, 2005. "On English Pygmies and Giants: the Physical Stature of English Youth in the late-18th and early-19th Centuries," Discussion Papers in Economics 573, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  13. Richard J. Murnane & John B. Willett & Frank Levy, 1995. "The Growing Importance of Cognitive Skills in Wage Determination," NBER Working Papers 5076, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, 1992. "Quantitative Literacy and the Likelihood of Employment among Young Adults in the United States," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 27(2), pages 313-328.
  15. David S. Jacks, 2010. "Foreign Wars, Domestic Markets: England, 1793-1815," NBER Working Papers 16236, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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