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The biological standard of living in Germany before the Kaiserreich, 1815–1840: insights from English army data

Michela Coppola ()

European Review of Economic History, 2010, vol. 14, issue 1, 71-109

Abstract: We investigate the trend and the regional variation in height among German military recruits born during the first half of the nineteenth century. The results show a downturn in height, as in many other parts of Europe and America, particularly substantial for those born at the end of the 1830s. At a regional level, however, major differences emerge from the analysis. First of all, a major height difference between recruits from southern and northern states emerges, probably due to the lower population density and to the specialization in dairy farming in the north. Secondly, time trends reveal at least three different patterns, probably related to the different underlying economic structure: in Bavaria, where the production system was more backward and changed relatively little in the early nineteenth century, heights almost stagnated at very low levels for the whole period under study; in the southwest, characterized by a more dynamic proto-industrial structure, height declined in years of declining grain prices and slightly increased when food prices recovered; in the agricultural north, where the peasants were mainly cottagers working on big estates cultivated with intensive practices, the overall decline in height is much less marked than in the southwest, and the trend moves in a countercyclical fashion with respect to food prices. A separate analysis for Prussia reveals a further differentiation between the west and east Elbian regions: the height of eastern Prussians appears to increase during the 1820s and the early 1830s. As the present sample is mainly representative of non-agricultural workers, the positive trend in the east may be due to both an improved food supply, fostered by a stronger application of the agrarian reforms, and a lower degree of competition among industrial workers, due to a delayed dismantling of the guild systems.

Date: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:cup:ereveh:v:14:y:2010:i:01:p:71-109_99