Colonial and Revolutionary Muster Rolls: Some New Evidence on Nutrition and Migration in Early America
60 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2001 Last revised: 20 Jan 2014
Date Written: July 1979
That investment in human capital has made an important contribution to the increase of labor productivity and per capita income during the last several centuries is widely acknowledged. While much of the research on this issue has focused on education, many scholars have also directed attention to the significance of improvements in nutrition. Until recently, efforts to study this subject have been hampered by a lack of evidence, but it now appears possible to construct indexes of nutrition from height-by-age data. This paper employs a relatively underutilized type of historical document to investigate the level of nutrition in early America. The same material also provides a rich source of information about patterns of migration during this period. This paper finds that native-born Americans approached modern heights by the time of the Revolution. On average, colonial Americans appear to have been 2 to 4 inches taller than Europeans, with southerners considerably taller than northerners and the rural population of greater stature than the urban. These differences may indicate that other factors besides nutrition were important in accounting for the dramatic changes in U.S. mortality rates during the nineteenth century.
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