Women of uncertain age: quantifying human capital accumulation in rural Ireland in the nineteenth century

Matthias Blum, Christopher L. Colvin, Laura McAtackney, Eoin McLaughlin

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    5 Citations (Scopus)


    Geary and Stark find that Ireland's post-Famine per capita GDP converged with British levels, and that this convergence was largely due to total factor productivity growth rather than mass emigration. In this article, new long-run measurements of human capital accumulation in Ireland are devised in order to facilitate a better assessment of sources of this productivity growth, including the relative contribution of men and women. This is done by exploiting the frequency at which age data heap at round ages, widely interpreted as an indicator of a population's basic numeracy skills. Because Földvári, van Leeuwen, and van Leeuwen-Li find that gender-specific trends in this measure derived from census returns are biased by who is reporting and recording the age information, any computed numeracy trends are corrected using data from prison and workhouse registers, sources in which women ostensibly self-reported their age. The findings show that rural Irish women born early in the nineteenth century had substantially lower levels of human capital than uncorrected census data would otherwise suggest. These results are large in magnitude and thus economically significant. The speed at which women converged is consistent with Geary and Stark's interpretation of Irish economic history; Ireland probably graduated to Europe's club of advanced economies thanks in part to rapid advances in female human capital.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)187-223
    JournalEconomic History Review
    Issue number1
    Early online date29 Jun 2016
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017


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