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Anthropometrics: The Intersection of Economics and Human Biology  

John Komlos

Anthropometrics is a research program that explores the extent to which economic processes affect human biological processes using height and weight as markers. This agenda differs from health economics in the sense that instead of studying diseases or longevity, macro manifestations of well-being, it focuses on cellular-level processes that determine the extent to which the organism thrives in its socio-economic and epidemiological environment. Thus, anthropometric indicators are used as a proxy measure for the biological standard of living as complements to conventional measures based on monetary units. Using physical stature as a marker, we enabled the profession to learn about the well-being of children and youth for whom market-generated monetary data are not abundant even in contemporary societies. It is now clear that economic transformations such as the onset of the Industrial Revolution and modern economic growth were accompanied by negative externalities that were hitherto unknown. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that the Welfare States of Western and Northern Europe take better care of the biological needs of their citizens than the market-oriented health-care system of the United States. Obesity has reached pandemic proportions in the United States affecting 40% of the population. It is fostered by a sedentary and harried lifestyle, by the diminution in self-control, the spread of labor-saving technologies, and the rise of instant gratification characteristic of post-industrial society. The spread of television and a fast-food culture in the 1950s were watershed developments in this regard that accelerated the process. Obesity poses a serious health risk including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer and its cost reaches $150 billion per annum in the United States or about $1,400 per capita. We conclude that the economy influences not only mortality and health but reaches bone-deep into the cellular level of the human organism. In other words, the economy is inextricably intertwined with human biological processes.


The Early Origins of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States: An Analysis of the Growth of the NAACP  

Daniel Aaronson, Jala Abner, Mark Borgschulte, and Bhashkar Mazumder

A newly digitized panel of county-level branch activity of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is used to describe the potential factors underlying the expansion of political participation in the American South, with a particular emphasis on the short period from the late 1930s through the 1940s. This period has long been recognized for its significant progress in reducing sizable racial gaps in labor market outcomes. But little work in economics has considered the role of political participation in shaping that progress. As the preeminent civil rights organization prior to the 1950s, the NAACP provides a natural lens in which to explore the expansion in political activism during this crucial period. Associative evidence suggests that a few potential channels could be especially worthy of future study, including the role of demographics, increased human capital, expansion in labor demand driven by wartime efforts, reduction in racial violence, latent political activism, and expansions in political and social networks, all of which have been highlighted in a variety of history and social science literatures. However, careful causal empirical work does not currently exist on these factors. Filling in this hole is important for providing compelling evidence on the origins of the 20th century’s most important U.S. political movement, as well as adding to a growing literature in political economy and development economics which examines the role that grassroots activism has played on economic growth and income inequality around the world.


The Economic Benefits of Education for the Reduction of Crime  

Joel Carr, Olivier Marie, and Sunčica Vujić

Historically, social observers have repeatedly noted a correlation between education and crime, observing that individuals with lower levels of education are more likely to commit crime. However, the relationship between education and crime is complex, and it is important to clearly establish causality to determine if investing in education can effectively reduce crime. Merely observing persistent educational-attainment inequalities between offenders and non-offenders is not sufficient to make any causal claims about the underlying relationship between education and crime. Many other factors can influence an individual’s decision to stay in school or commit a crime, and these factors need to be accounted for when estimating the relationship between education and crime. Economists theoretically predicted in the late 1960s that education, via its positive effect on future earnings, would reduce the probability of criminal participation. Empirical studies have since used various econometric methods to establish that, on average, education has a strong causal crime-reducing effect. One strand of this literature has established in various contexts that individuals from cohorts forced by law to stay longer in school were much less likely to end up in court or prison. There is, however, still much to be discovered about the effect of education on crime, such as the underlying mechanisms related to income or non-cognitive effects, and heterogeneities by context, education level and quality, and individual characteristics. Overall, economists widely agree that investing in education is an efficient public-spending strategy to effectively reduce crime.


The Growth of Health Spending in the United States From 1776 to 2026  

Thomas E. Getzen

During the 18th and 19th centuries, medical spending in the United States rose slowly, on average about .25% faster than gross domestic product (GDP), and varied widely between rural and urban regions. Accumulating scientific advances caused spending to accelerate by 1910. From 1930 to 1955, rapid per-capita income growth accommodated major medical expansion while keeping the health share of GDP almost constant. During the 1950s and 1960s, prosperity and investment in research, the workforce, and hospitals caused a rapid surge in spending and consolidated a truly national health system. Excess growth rates (above GDP growth) were above +5% per year from 1966 to 1970, which would have doubled the health-sector share in fifteen years had it not moderated, falling under +3% in the 1980s, +2% in 1990s, and +1.5% since 2005. The question of when national health expenditure growth can be brought into line with GDP and made sustainable for the long run is still open. A review of historical data over three centuries forces confrontation with issues regarding what to include and how long events continue to effect national health accounting and policy. Empirical analysis at a national scale over multiple decades fails to support a position that many of the commonly discussed variables (obesity, aging, mortality rates, coinsurance) do cause significant shifts in expenditure trends. What does become clear is that there are long and variable lags before macroeconomic and technological events affect spending: three to six years for business cycles and multiple decades for major recessions, scientific discoveries, and organizational change. Health-financing mechanisms, such as employer-based health insurance, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are seen to be both cause and effect, taking years to develop and affecting spending for decades to come.


Human Capital in a Historical Perspective  

Gabriele Cappelli, Leonardo Ridolfi, and Michelangelo Vasta

Human capital can be defined as the set of knowledge and skills that individuals accumulate over time. These range from basic competences to more sophisticated forms of knowledge (intermediate and upper-tail human capital). All of them entail complex measurement problems in historical perspective as sources are often too scarce, problematic, and unreliable to allow proper measurement. Human capital is usually measured relying on the extensive margin of education or the quantity of education, that is, how many people are able to read or count or how many people have a certain degree of schooling. Less is known about the effective acquisition of skills, for example, the quality of education. Human capital can affect labor productivity and innovative capacity and it is generally regarded as one of the most important determinants of economic growth, figuring prominently in debates on the origin of the Industrial Revolution and the transition from preindustrial to modern economic growth. The determinants of education are several and vary widely over time and across space, including economic, institutional, cultural, and social factors. Historically, the acquisition of skills has deeply changed in nature, passing from the largely decentralized and fragmented systems of the preindustrial period to the 19th-century systems of mass education, where education was more and more universal and free, and the accumulation of skills was largely coordinated by states and other public authorities. In several regards, literature on human capital is still limited. Few efforts, for instance, have been made to harmonize data, integrate them in a comparative and regional perspective, explore the potential of individual-level information, and assess if and to what extent different dimensions of human capital such as technical and higher education have affected long-term patterns in economic growth and development. Other aspects have long been neglected or remain virtually unexplored, such as gender differences in education, the efficiency of education systems and its determinants, and the analysis of human capital in developing countries.


Religiosity and Development  

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Economics of religion is the application of economic methods to the study of causes and consequences of religion. Ever since Max Weber set forth his theory of the Protestant ethic, social scientists have compared socioeconomic differences across Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, and Christians, and more recently across different intensities of religiosity. Religiosity refers to an individual’s degree of religious attendance and strength of beliefs. Religiosity rises with a growing demand for religion resulting from adversity and insecurity or a surging supply of religion stemming from increasing numbers of religious organizations, for instance. Religiosity has fallen in some Western countries since the mid-20th century, but has strengthened in several other societies around the world. Religion is a multidimensional concept, and religiosity has multiple impacts on socioeconomic outcomes, depending on the dimension observed. Religion covers public religious activities such as church attendance, which involves exposure to religious doctrines and to fellow believers, potentially strengthening social capital and trust among believers. Religious doctrines teach belief in supernatural beings, but also social views on hard work, refraining from deviant activities, and adherence to traditional norms. These norms and social views are sometimes orthogonal to the general tendency of modernization, and religion may contribute to the rising polarization on social issues regarding abortion, LGBT rights, women, and immigration. These norms and social views are again potentially in conflict with science and innovation, incentivizing some religious authorities to curb scientific progress. Further, religion encompasses private religious activities such as prayer and the particular religious beliefs, which may provide comfort and buffering against stressful events. At the same time, rulers may exploit the existence of belief in higher powers for political purposes. Empirical research supports these predictions. Consequences of higher religiosity include more emphasis on traditional values such as traditional gender norms and attitudes against homosexuality, lower rates of technical education, restrictions on science and democracy, rising polarization and conflict, and lower average incomes. Positive consequences of religiosity include improved health and depression rates, crime reduction, increased happiness, higher prosociality among believers, and consumption and well-being levels that are less sensitive to shocks.


The 1918–1919 Influenza Pandemic in Economic History  

Martin Karlsson, Daniel Kühnle, and Nikolaos Prodromidis

Due to the similarities with the COVID–19 pandemic, there has been a renewed interest in the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, which represents the most severe pandemic of the 20th century with an estimated total death toll ranging between 30 and 100 million. This rapidly growing literature in economics and economic history has devoted attention to contextual determinants of excess mortality in the pandemic; to the impact of the pandemic on economic growth, inequality, and a range of other outcomes; and to the impact of nonpharmaceutical interventions. Estimating the effects of the pandemic, or the effects of countermeasures, is challenging. There may not be much exogenous variation to go by, and the historical data sets available are typically small and often of questionable quality. Yet the 1918–1919 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to learn how large pandemics play out in the long run. The studies evaluating effects of the pandemic, or of policies enacted to combat it, typically rely on some version of difference-in-differences, or instrumental variables. The assumptions required for these designs to achieve identification of causal effects have rarely been systematically evaluated in this particular historical context. Using a purpose-built dataset covering the entire Swedish population, such an assessment is provided here. The empirical analysis indicates that the identifying assumptions used in previous work may indeed be satisfied. However, the results cast some doubt on the general external validity of previous findings as the analysis fails to replicate several results in the Swedish context. These disagreements highlight the need for additional studies in other populations and contexts which puts the spotlight on further digitization and linkage of historical datasets.