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Cities, market integration, and going to sea: stunting and the standard of living in early nineteenth‐century England and Wales1

Jane Humphries and Tim Leunig ()

Economic History Review, 2009, vol. 62, issue 2, 458-478

Abstract: A new source, 1840s Admiralty seamen's tickets, is used to explore three anthropometric issues. First, did being born in a city, with its associated disamenities, lead to stunting? Second, did being born near a city, whose markets sucked away foodstuffs, lead to stunting? Third, did child labour lead to stunting? We find that only those born in very large cities suffered a level of stunting that contemporaries could have observed. Being born near a city, which gave parents opportunities to trade away family calories, and perhaps increased exposure to disease, did not cause stunting. Britain was a well‐integrated market; all families, whatever their locations, had options to trade and faced similar disease environments. Finally, although adults who had gone to sea young were shorter than those who did not enlist until fully grown, going to sea did not stunt. Instead, plentiful food at sea attracted stunted adolescents, who reversed most of their stunting as a result. But child labour at sea was different from other forms of children's work because wages were largely hypothecated to the child as food and shelter onboard. In contrast, where wages were paid to the child or his parents in cash, they became submerged in the household economy and their benefits were shared with other family members.

Date: 2009
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