Bringing home the bacon? Regional nutrition, stature, and gender in the industrial revolution1

Sara Horrell, Deborah Oxley
Published Online:
24 Feb 2012
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 65 Issue 4

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The impact of changing diet and resultant nutrition on living standards over the industrial revolution has been much debated, yet existing data have enabled only general trends to be identified. We use data from Eden's survey of parishes in 1795 and the Rural Queries of 1834 to go beyond average calorie intake, instead focusing on micronutrients and quality of diet. From this we discern regional differences in diet. In 1795 these differences were related to the availability of common land and the nature of women's work. Diet in both periods also maps onto stature. Using five datasets on height, we observe a positive impact of diet in 1795 on men's, women's, and boy's heights. By 1834 the impact is less evident; for men it remained, for women and boys it either no longer existed or became negative. This may indicate the superseding of nutritional factors by environmental ones, but it also hints at the emergence of a different relationship between height and nutrition for women and children compared with men. We speculate that this points to a shift in the intra‐household allocation of resources, but challenge the notion that the emergence of male breadwinning automatically led to universal female disadvantage.

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