Poor, Hungry and Stupid: Numeracy and the Impact of High Food Prices in Industrializing Britain, 1780-1850
45 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2009
Date Written: October 2, 2007
This paper argues that low levels of nutrition impaired cognitive development in industrializing England, and that welfare transfers mitigated the adverse effects of high food prices. Age heaping is used as an indicator of numeracy, as derived from census data. For the cohorts from 1780-1850, we analyse the effect of high grain prices during the Napoleonic Wars. We show that numeracy declined markedly for those born during the war years, especially when wheat was dear. Crucially, where the Old Poor Law provided for generous relief payments, the adverse impact of high prices for foodstuffs was mitigated. Finally, we show some tentative evidence that Englishmen born in areas with low income support selected into occupations with lower cognitive requirements.
Keywords: Nutrition, cognitive development, labor market outcomes, Napoleonic wars, IQ
JEL Classification: O12, N93, J62
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation