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Heights and Real Wages in
DPhil Candidate in Economic and
University of Oxford
• Aim: To better understand Kerala’s path of
• In the process of constructing a new panel dataset of
on infant mortality, real wages and heights from the
late colonial Travancore.
• Travancore was an early leader in reducing infant
mortality and stunting.
• Sharing the preliminary findings of the first part of
• Project focuses on Princely State of Travancore:
makes up around 2/3 of modern Kerala
Kerala and Stunting Today
In the latest NFHS survey of India, 2005-6, Kerala
was the state with by far the lowest stunting
of children under 5 years.
Region % Under 5s Stunted
West Bengal 17.8
Uttar Pradesh 32.4
All India 23.7
*Stunted refers to those who are more
than 3 standard deviations below norms
of height for age
Source: NFHS 2005-6 Report
• Modern state composed of the Princely States
of Travancore and Cochin and the British
Indian district of Malabar.
• Travancore state corresponds to about 2/3 of
the modern state of Kerala including the
• Indirect vs direct rule.
• Institutional context: Recent work by economists Banerjee and Iyer
(Iyer, ‘The Long Term Impact of Colonial Rule’, The Review of
Economics and Statistics, 2010, and Banerjee and Iyer, ‘History,
Institutions and Economic Performance’, American Economic
Review, 2005)has found evidence of colonial era institutions
influencing development outcomes today.
• One of their findings is that regions that were indirectly ruled, such
as Travancore, have better public good provision today than former
• Qualitative histories reveal Travancore to have been an unusually
progressive state which invested heavily in education and health
and was the most literate region in India in our period, as it is today.
(Desai, ‘Indirect British Rule, State Formation and Welfarism in
Kerala, India 1860-1957 “, Social Science History, 2005)
• The state also had an advanced bureaucracy which began collecting
detailed statistics in the early C20th.
• New data sources on adult heights, real wages
and infant mortality
• Height data comprises height and a caste data
of 1351 males born between 1910 and 1941
constructed as part of master’s thesis.
• Real wages and infant mortality dataset is still
under construction. I hope to collect data
corresponding to the height data. At present I
have patchy data for the 1930s and 1940s
Indian Anthropometric History
• A subdiscipline of economic history has grown up in the last
few decades trading this history of heights, known as
• The first large scale anthropometric history of early C20th
India was Baten and Guntupalli, Explorations in Economic
History, (2006). Their paper documents trends in mean male
height in North India between 1914 and 1944.
• They also find that the difference in heights between the
highest and lowest castes was relatively small – around 7cms.
• Strachey, MPhil, University of Oxford 2009 completes the
early C20th picture by uncovering similar data for southern
• Both Baten and Guntupalli and Strachey find that mean male
heights were largely stagnant between 1910 and 1940.
Indian Anthropometric History
1910 1912 1914 1916 1918 1920 1922 1924 1926 1928 1930 1932 1934 1936 1938 1940 1942 1944
Heights in North and South India 1910-1944
Sources: Strachey, Caste, Public Policy and Health: Living Standards in South India, Unpublished MPhil
thesis, University of Oxford, 2009, and Guntupalli and Baten, ‘Development and Inequality of Heights’.
Travancore Height Data
• In contrast to the national picture, in
Travancore there is an increasing overall trend
1910-1914 1915-1919 1920-1924 1925-1929 1930-1934 1935-1939 1940-1945
Height in Travancore By Caste
Source: Strachey, Caste, Public Policy and Health: Living Standards in South India, Unpublished MPhil thesis,
University of Oxford, 2009
• Money wages have been deflated by rice
prices to give ‘rice wages’.
• Wages are decreasing in the 1930s and early
1940s as a result of the depression
Source: The Statistics of Travancore, Various Editions.
Infant Mortality in Travancore
• One of the
Travancore IM 1931-1945 India IM 1992-3
Nagercoil 112.8 Delhi 66
Trivandrum 71.7 West Bengal 75
Quilon 63.4 Karnataka 66
Kottayam 85.4 Kerala 24
Alwaye 89.6 Uttar Pradesh 100
All Travancore 84.2 All India 79
Sources: Travancore, The Statistics of Travancore,
Various Editions. India, NFHS.
No. Observations: 387 Specification 1 – Year Fixed
Specification2 – Year and
Division Fixed Effects
Independent variable: Height
Constant -1639.2* -3737.8
Scheduled Caste -50.21 *** -54.65***
Christian 3.16 5.67
Nayar -18.47 -23.86
Other Caste -14.09 -18.11
Infant Mortality 0.22* 0.118
Unskilled Real Wages -5.15 -8.58
Semi-Skilled Real Wages -4.81 9.89
Skilled Real Wages -0.581 -0.177
Year FE YES YES
Division FE NO YES
Excluded caste dummy: Brahmin
***= significant at 10% , ** = significant at 5%, * = significant at 10%
• Regional inequality in height between North
and South of the state.
• Only Semi-skilled wages approach significance
and are of the expected sign.
• Infant mortality is not statistically significant
and is not of the expected sign
• The coefficients on wages and infant mortality
may well change when the database is
Conclusions and Future Work
• Kerala’s comparative success in nutrition has
long historical roots.
• Mean height was increasing in Travancore in
the early C20th when it was stagnant
elsewhere in India and despite falling real
• Going to archives in Kerala in 3 weeks to
collect more wages data.
• Plan to construct a more subtle measure of
real wages than the grain wages presented
here using other price data in the database.
Travancore Height Data
Other Caste 624
Birth Cohort No.