The past 150 years have seen a massive improvement in the health of populations in Europe and North America. People live longer, eat larger quantities of more nutritious food, get sick less often and have better access to healthcare and medical technology. These general improvements have led to a large increase in the average height of the population: 11 cm in Britain. This large increase in height made me wonder a couple of years ago whether and how children’s growth has changed over time as well. This blog post explains what we currently know about the differences between child growth today and in the past, and why it is important to study changes in children’s growth over time.
In order to measure economic development and living standards in the past, economic historians have constructed real wages for many countries. They have generally found that Britain, the Low Countries, and British North America had substantially higher real wages than the rest of the world. One of the assumptions of this methodology, however, is that family size has been constant across time and between countries. This blog post tests that assertion by building a demographic simulation to understand how family size has changed over time in England. I find that, contrary to the claims of some historians, family size was quite low in England and did not change substantially over time. Thus, existing estimates of real wages accurately capture average family welfare at the average point in the family life cycle.