Poor, Hungry and Stupid: Numeracy and the Impact of High Food Prices in Industrializing Britain, 1780-1850

45 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2009  

Hans-Joachim Voth

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society; Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Date Written: October 2, 2007

Abstract

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

Voth, Hans-Joachim, Poor, Hungry and Stupid: Numeracy and the Impact of High Food Prices in Industrializing Britain, 1780-1850 (October 2, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1373743 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1373743

Hans-Joachim Voth (Contact Author)

University of Zurich - UBS International Center of Economics in Society ( email )

Raemistrasse 71
Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

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