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African-American and white inequality in the nineteenth century American South: a biological comparison

Abstract

The use of height data to measure living standards is now a well-established method in economic history. By using a new source of nineteenth century Texas state prison records, the present study contrasts the heights of comparable blacks and whites between the Civil War and Reconstruction in the American South. White stature exceeded black stature. Between 1850 and 1870, black stature declined by more than 1 cm but recovered toward the end of the nineteenth century. Postbellum white stature declined by more than 1 1/2 cm over the same period yet never recovered.

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Notes

  1. I am currently collecting nineteenth-century Irish prison records. Irish prison enumerators also used light, medium, dark, fresh, and sallow to describe white prisoners in prisons from a traditionally white population. To date, no inmate in an Irish prison has been recorded with a complexion consistent with African heritage.

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Acknowledgments

I appreciate comments from Tom Maloney, John Komlos, Paul Hodges, Roger Ransom, Jeremy Atack, and Dora Costa. Comments from two anonymous referees were especially helpful. I am also grateful to the participants at the 2004 Social Science History Association conference. Craig O. Davis, Sandy Triepke, and Anita Voorhies provided excellent research assistance.

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Correspondence to Scott Alan Carson.

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Responsible editor: Christian Dustmann

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Carson, S.A. African-American and white inequality in the nineteenth century American South: a biological comparison. J Popul Econ 22, 739–755 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-007-0167-2

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Keywords

  • Nineteenth century US labor relations
  • Stature
  • Inequality

JEL Classification

  • N31
  • J15
  • I12