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Parental consumption decisions and child health during the early French fertility decline, 1790-1914.
JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC HISTORY. 1993 Jun; 53(2):259-74.A theoretical framework followed by an empirical test was used to explain the relationship between heights, nutrient consumption, and real gross domestic product in France between 1790 and 1914. The time series and cross sectional analyses aimed to determine whether there is significant substitution between quantity and quality of children. Data were arrayed by department (90) at nine 10-year intervals, which yields 81 continuous observations and a total sample size of 729. Height data was by single year of birth cohort. Controls were included for the northeast region, where heights were the tallest. Five different reduced form models showed an indirect relationship between fertility and height. The first model showed marital fertility having a strongly negative effect on height and explained 22% of the variance in heights. During 1790-1911 French marital fertility declined from 0.8 to 0.3, which added about 25 mm or an English inch of height. In fact, height did increase by this amount. The second model included time trends and regional patterns of height; the result was a reduction in the magnitude of the coefficient. The third model included real wages, which had a negative impact on height, and the crude death rate which had an independent negative influence on height. The regional effect remained strong. The coefficient of marital fertility remained significant but smaller. Model four, with urbanization included, showed a positive effect. Model five included literacy rates, which were strongly correlated with height. The interpretation is made that literacy investments are directly complementary to investments in better nutrition. Food consumption per capita accounts for only a small portion of the increase in height and regional differences. The effect of food consumption is determined by the role of disease and the allocation of resources within families. Thus, in the nineteenth century, heights and life expectancy improved the hard way: by expanding food consumption `to improve resistance to disease and to compensate for morbidity demands on calories.