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Growing Taller, yet Falling Short: Policy, Health, and Living Standards in Brazil, 1850-1950.

  • Author(s): Franken, Daniel W.
  • Advisor(s): Summerhill, William R
  • et al.
Abstract

The emergence of regional inequities and the genesis of modern economic growth in Brazil have remained shrouded by a dearth of historical evidence. Although quantitative scholars have revealed the efficacy of the First Republic (1889-1930) in fomenting economic progress, the extent to which Brazil’s early economic growth fostered improvements in health remains unclear. My dissertation fills this void in scholarship by relying on hitherto untapped archival sources with data on human stature—a reliable metric for health and nutritional status.

Heights offer an excellent source of knowledge regarding human development for Brazil in the 1850-1950 period—an era of deep social, political, and economic transformations. My analysis centers heavily on a large (n≈17,000), geographically-comprehensive series compiled from military inscription files, supplemented by an ancillary dataset drawn from passport records (n≈6,000). This dissertation also integrates reports of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board (IHB), which spearheaded rural health campaigns in Brazil targeting hookworm and malaria in the 1910s and 1920s.

This thesis details the inadequacies of traditional approaches to human development for Brazil in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. I rely on regression analyses to estimate the secular trends in height, consider alternative hypotheses, and assess selection biases. Venturing beyond conventional methods of historical anthropometrics, I endeavor to identify causal forces behind the observed patterns with historical climate and geographic data used to proxy for the virulence of the disease environment. I also utilize statistics on health expenditures and mortality rates in order to contextualize the observed height patterns.

I document inferior heights in the North and Northeast that predated the advent of industrialization. At the national level, my findings reveal a 3-centimeter stature increase from 1880 to 1910, a growth rate commensurate with that observed in more industrialized economies in the latter-twentieth century. In the South and Southeast, I argue that increased real income and public-health interventions explain the earlier upward trend in heights, while rural sanitary reforms were most important in the North and Northeast, where heights remained stagnant until the 1910 decade and diseases such as hookworm and malaria were most rampant. I show that, although rural sanitation in the early-twentieth century improved health conditions, administrative shortcomings hemmed down the rollout of modern health institutions and continued to plague the nation.

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