Biological Measures of Economic History
Posted: 7 Aug 2013
Date Written: January 2013
This review discusses the methodology and some findings underlying four types of biological measures used by economic historians: mortality rates, stature, body mass index, and skeletal remains. Economic historians examine a variety of sources to learn when, why, and where modern industrial societies became rich and healthy. Monetary measures, such as income and wages, are highly desirable but usually unavailable to cover the time periods and countries over which modern societies evolved. Donning interdisciplinary lenses, these historians search archives, libraries, and archaeological sources for scraps of information, often assembled for other purposes, to construct a story of the evolution of humanity’s well-being. Biological measures have the advantage of comparability across time and culture; life expectancy, for example, means about the same today as in ancient Egypt, but the same cannot be said for the purchasing power of income, wages, or wealth.
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