Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

Did smallpox reduce height?: stature and the standard of living in London, 1770-1873

By Hans-Joachim Voth and Tim Leunig

Abstract

In this paper, we re-examine the effect of smallpox on the height attained by those who suffered from this disease. To this end, we analyse a dataset assembled by Floud, Wachter and Gregory on the height of recruits into the Marine Society, 1770-1873. Using both time series and cross-sectional analysis, we show that smallpox was indeed an important determinant of height: those who had suffered from smallpox were significantly shorter. This suggests that the increase in heights documented by Floud et al. may be explained not just by increased nutritional intake, but also by the eradication of smallpox

Topics: HC Economic History and Conditions
Publisher: Wiley on behalf of the Economic History Society
Year: 1996
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.1996.tb00581.x
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.lse.ac.uk:497
Provided by: LSE Research Online
Download PDF:
Sorry, we are unable to provide the full text but you may find it at the following location(s):
  • http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/497/1... (external link)
  • http://www.blackwellpublishing... (external link)
  • http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/497/ (external link)
  • Suggested articles

    Citations

    1. 1971-1986: A Survey’,
    2. 2134 (Long - t e r m chang e s in nutri t i o n , welf ar e and product i v i t y in Britain : physic a l and socioe c o n o m i c char a c t e r i s t i c s of boy s recr u i t e d i n t o t h e M a ri n e Soci e t y ,
    3. 2134 (Long-term changes in nutrition, welfare and productivity in Britain: physical and socioeconomic characteristics of boys recruited into the Marine Society,
    4. 275f f ; Foge l , ‘New sour c e s and new t ech n i q u e s ’ ,
    5. 275ff; Fogel, ‘New sources and new techniques’,
    6. 288; W illi a m s o n , Did British capitalism breed inequality?, tab .
    7. 288; Williamson, Did British capitalism breed inequality?, tab. 2.8, p. 17; Lindert and Williamson, ‘English workers’ living standards’,
    8. 305. Williamson leaves open the door to such a possibility: Williamson, Did British Capitalism Breed Inequality?,
    9. 349; Landers finds that smallpox burials fall as a percentage of all burials in London Bills from a peak of 10.5% in the 1760s to 7.3% in the 1800s and to 3.5% in the 1820s; Landers, ‘Mortality and metropolis’,
    10. a Gaussian distribution strictly implies that there exist people of negative height. This is obviously not true.
    11. (1981). A p p l e b y
    12. Age i n m ont h s i s not , howe v e r , si gn i f i c a n t .
    13. Age in months is not,
    14. and history, fig 1.4,
    15. and history, fig 7.1,
    16. (1993). and its interpretation (Manche s t e r ,
    17. (1964). and W h iti n g
    18. Brin k m a n , Druk k e r
    19. c C l os k e y , Rhetoric of economics,
    20. (1971). C r af t s , ‘C l i o m e t r i c s ,
    21. (1993). Colyton to Waterloo: mortality, politics and economics among the elite of early modern England’,
    22. Colyton to Waterloo’, p. 115-7; Landers, Death and the metropolis,
    23. (1993). concept: the unification of the globe by disease (fourteenth to seventeenth centuries)’,
    24. Conquest of Smallpox ,
    25. Death and the metropolis,
    26. Despite this, we find no evidence in our cross-sectional data that those who had had smallpox grew at a significantly faster rate between the ages of 18 and 25 than those who had not had smallpox.
    27. (1981). Epidemics and famine in the little ice age’, in
    28. Estimating historical heights’,
    29. (1993). Estimating trends in historical heights’,
    30. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y
    31. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health and history,
    32. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health and history, fi g. 7.1,
    33. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history,
    34. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history, f i g 7.1 ,
    35. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history, fi g 1.4,
    36. Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history, fi g 7.1,
    37. Fl ou d and W ach t e r ‘Pov e r t y and phy s i c a l st at u r e ’ ,
    38. For ‘the 1820s onwar d s , .... sim p l y to rejec t the real wage evide n c e out of hand woul d be fool i s h . ’ Flou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history,
    39. For ‘the 1820s onwards, .... simply to reject the real wage evidence out of hand would be foolish.’
    40. From which it was, accor d i n g to Kom l o s , only narro w l y rescue d by enligh t e n e d gover n m e n t inter v e n t i o n ; Kom l o s , Nutrition and economic development,
    41. Given the size of the standard errors, we can only be certain that the difference between the coefficients in tab.
    42. health and history,
    43. health and history, p. 17; Fogel, ‘New sources and new techniques’,
    44. health and history, p. 304; we discuss some reservations in section III,
    45. Height increa s e s am ongs t citize n s of som e W e ster n indus t r i a l i s e d countr i e s seem to have com e to an end; Tanne r , Foetus into man,
    46. Height increa s e s am ongs t the citizen s of som e W e ster n count r i e s seem to have com e to an end, sugge s t i n g t h at t h ey are appro a c h i n g t h ei r gene t i c pot e n t i a l . C f . Tanne r , Foetus into man,
    47. Height increases amongst citizens of some Western industrialised countries seem to have come to an end; Tanner, Foetus into man,
    48. Height increases amongst the citizens of some Western countries seem to have come to an end, suggesting that they are approaching their genetic potential. Cf. Tanner, Foetus into man,
    49. History of England ,
    50. History of England,
    51. i b i d .
    52. i b i d . ,
    53. i b i d . , p. 161; Fl ou d , W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history,
    54. i b i d . , t a b. 4.1, pp. 148- 9 , fi g. 7.1, p. 289. Thes e - and ot he r - resu l t s have ge ne r a t e d som e cont r o v e r s y , howe v e r , see Kom l o s , ‘Sec u l a r tren d ’ .
    55. In t h ei r ori g i n a l art i c l e , W ach t e r and Trus s e l l sugg e s t t h at bot h
    56. income’. For a critique of this paper, see Mandemakers and Van Zanden, ‘Height of conscripts’. The most important works in anthropometric history include Floud,
    57. (1964). Infantile stimulation and adult stature of human males’,
    58. Infantile stimulation and adult stature’, p. 1007ff; Landauer, ‘Infantile vaccination’,
    59. Innum e r a b l e exam pl e s illust r a t e the disast r o u s repe r c u s s i o n s of new disea s e encou n t e r s for previ o u s l y inexpe r i e n c e d popula t i o n s . ’ McNeil l , ‘Migr a t i o n patte r n s ’ ,
    60. Innumerable examples illustrate the disastrous repercussions of new disease encounters for previously inexperienced populations.’ McNeill, ‘Migration patterns’,
    61. It must be borne in mind that even severely stunted individuals may experience catch-up growth if they resume an adequate diet. Cf. Tanner, ‘Growth as a target-seeking function’. American slaves are a case in point; see Steckel, ‘Peculiar population’,
    62. Ke o w n , Modern rise of population ,
    63. Kom l o s , ‘Sec u l a r t r en d ’ ,
    64. Kom l o s , ‘Secu l a r trend ’ , p. 122 for exam p l e s of bim od a l i t y .
    65. Kom l o s argu e s t h at Aust r i a n peas a n t s redu c e d t h ei r own cons u m p t i o n as a resul t of m a rk e t i n t e g r a t i o n ; i b i d . ,
    66. (1993). Kom l os
    67. Kom l os uses sm all p o x vacci n a t i o n as a indep e n d e n t varia b l e , but he does not test for the relati o n s h i p betwee n t h e di se a s e i t s e l f and st at u r e , Kom l o s , ‘Sec u l a r t r en d ’ ,
    68. Komlos uses smallpox vaccination as a independent variable, but he does not test for the relationship between the disease itself and stature, Komlos, ‘Secular trend’,
    69. Laduri e , ‘A concep t ’ . The m odel of a relativ e l y stable and high ‘b ackg r o u n d ’ level of m o rtali t y in the towns, and m o re volati l e death rates in rural areas wa s first propos e d by McNeill , ‘Migra t i o n patter n s ’ .
    70. Landers, ‘Mortality and metropolis’ p. 69. Recent research confirms that smallpox was endemic in a number of large towns during the eighteenth century, while small towns suffered from periodic outbreaks of epidemics (approximately every five years),
    71. (1993). m b r i d g e ,
    72. Modern rise of population,
    73. Mu ltim o d a lity is o n l y ap p a ren t in th e freq u e n c y d i strib u tio n fo r 1 5 year o l d s . W e su sp ect th at th is is cau sed by sm all sam p le problem s: whereas
    74. Multimodality is only apparent in the frequency distribution for 15 year olds. We suspect that this is caused by small sample problems: whereas N13
    75. Nort h a m p t o n s h i r e in 1723- 2 4 , it was found that those aged 0-10 had a fatal i t y rate of 14.3% , and th o s e ag ed
    76. Northamptonshire in 1723-24, it was found that those aged 0-10 had a fatality rate of 14.3%, and those aged 10-20 a fatality rate of 8.5%. For those between 20 and 30, the respective fig. was 24%, rising to
    77. Of cour s e , a Gauss i a n di st r i b u t i o n st ri c t l y i m pl i e s t h at t h er e exi s t peop l e of nega t i v e hei g h t . Thi s i s obvi o u s l y not t r ue .
    78. Problems of small sample size prevent us from using other age cohorts. For example, for 16 year-olds without smallpox, there are only three height categories with more than two observations.
    79. r and W h itin g , ‘Infa n t i l e stim u l a t i o n and adult statu r e ’ , p. 1007f f ; Landa u e r , ‘Infa n t i l e vacci n a t i o n ’ ,
    80. r s , ‘Fro m C o l y t o n t o W a t e r l o o ’ doi
    81. Razzel l com e s to the sam e conclu s i o n on the basis of reduct i o n s in m o rtal i t y , Conquest of smallpox,
    82. Rhetoric of economics,
    83. Schw a r z , ‘St a n d a r d of l i v i n g ’ .
    84. Secular trend’, p. 122 for examples of bimodality.
    85. Speckled monster,
    86. t h e si ze of t h e st and a r d erro r s , we can onl y be certain that the differe n c e be tween the coeffici e n t s in t a b. 1 and 2 i s 0.1 i n ch e s .
    87. th e sin g l e m o st im p o r tan t eig e n v a lu e fo r SMALLPOX. Th is d e m o n s trates th at m u ltico llin earity is clearly pres e n t . Ei ge n v a l u e 13, whi c h acco u n t s for over 33% of t h e vari a n c e of
    88. Th is is p a rticu l arly n o t ewo r th y in co m p ariso n with th e resu lts rep o r ted b y Ko m l o s ; see Ko m l o s , Nutrition and economic development, p. 243, Kom l o s , ‘Sec u l a r t r en d ’ ,
    89. (1992). that recruits who had worked with animals were considerably taller than those who came from other occupations. Height, health, and history,
    90. (1963). The Aboriginal population of central Mexico on the eve of the Spanish conquest ( B e r k e l e y ,
    91. (1963). The Aboriginal population of central Mexico on the eve of the Spanish conquest (Berkeley,
    92. The authors are grateful to Roderick Floud, Kenneth Wachter, and Annabel Gregory for allowing access to their dataset. They would very much like to thank Tony
    93. The model of a relatively stable and high ‘background’ level of mortality in the towns, and more volatile death rates in rural areas was first proposed by McNeill, ‘Migration patterns’.
    94. The sam e critici s m applies to the Kom l os- K i m m e thods , which also assum e s norm a l i t y . Cf. Kom l o s and Kim , ‘Est i m a t i n g t r en d s ’ ,
    95. The same criticism applies to the Komlos-Kim methods, which also assumes normality. Cf. Komlos and Kim, ‘Estimating trends’,
    96. The total additional growth caused by the early infant growth spurt is captured in the intercept term, which is of no further interest to us.
    97. These - and other - results have generated some controversy, however, see Komlos, ‘Secular trend’.
    98. They st at e t h at ‘Thi s fi nd i n g i s t h e m a i n cont r i b u t i o n of t h i s book t o t h e l e ng t h y deba t e abou t t h e st an d a r d of livin g of the Briti s h worki n g class .
    99. They state that ‘This finding is the main contribution of this book to the lengthy debate about the standard of living of the British working class.’ ibid.,
    100. This is particularly noteworthy in comparison with the results reported by Komlos; see Komlos, Nutrition and economic development, p. 243, Komlos, ‘Secular trend’,
    101. W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health and history, fi g. 1.2, p. 10, fi g.
    102. W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health and history, p. 17; Foge l , ‘New sour c e s and new t ech n i q u e s ’ ,
    103. W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health and history, p. 304; we di sc u s s som e rese r v a t i o n s i n sect i o n III, bel o w .
    104. W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history,
    105. W ach t e r and Greg o r y , Height, health, and history, com p a r e t a b. 4.1, pp. 148- 9 t o t a b. 4.3, pp. 167- 9 ; fi g. 7.1,
    106. (1992). W ach t e r and Greg o r y show t h at recr u i t s who had work e d wi t h ani m a l s were cons i d e r a b l y t a l l e r t h an t hos e who cam e from ot he r occu p a t i o n s . Height, health, and history, f i g .
    107. W ach t e r and Trus s e l l , ‘Est i m a t i n g hi st o r i c a l hei g h t s ’ ,
    108. W illi a m s o n leave s open th e door to such a possibility: W illiam s on, Did British Capitalism Breed Inequality?,
    109. Wachter ‘Poverty and physical stature’, doi

    To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.