Health, Height, Nutrition, and Mortality: Evidence on the "Antebellum Puzzle" from Union Army Recruits in the Middle of the Nineteenth Century

Michael R. Haines

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 107
Issued in August 1998
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

The Antebellum Puzzle' describes the situation of declining stature and pos mortality in the three decades prior to the American Civil War (1861-65). It is this period was one of rapid economic growth and development in the United State the debate has centered on whether the American diet, both in terms of protein a deteriorated in the middle of the 19th century. But the mortality environment a have worsened (or at least did not improve), connected with factors such as urba commercialization, and increased geographic mobility. This paper uses data on t Union Army recruits as an indicator of the standard of living of Americans durin Particular attention is paid to New York State and comparisons to the rest of th York State, mortality was not improving in the antebellum period and was deterio York City. For the United States and for New York State, urbanization was negat heights, as was the census death rate in 1850 and a measure of mobility (proport population foreign born). Although, New York State's agriculture was rapidly co in this era and specializing in dairy products, its nutrition may have been dete with substantial local variation. Mortality was also not improving and worsened Both contributed to a decline in this biological indicator of the standard of li both New York and the whole United States were experiencing Smithian' economic g (induced by transport improvements and widening markets) with negative externali York State was an area in advance of much of the nation in terms of both urban/i agricultural development in the antebellum period.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0107

Published: The Biological Standard of Living in Comporative Perspective, Komlos, Johnand Joerg Baton, eds., Stuttgart: Franz Steinonverlag, 1997, pp. 155-180.

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