On Tuesday 22nd September Prof. Johan Fourie from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa will be presenting an overview of his current research agenda:
The evolution of living standards in South Africa: new evidence and conjectures
One 'paradox' of economic history remains the stagnation or even decline in living standards as measured by heights during the era of industrialization in Europe and the United States. We argue that South Africa during the second half of the nineteenth century provides a particularly dramatic example of the effects of structural change on living standards. The four sources of military attestations we use initially provide evidence of a similar paradox: a sharp decline in living standards after the discovery of diamonds and gold in the South African interior. Once we control for type of military recruitment or the year of enlistment, however, the result reverses: we observe an increase in the heights of white South Africans following the mineral discoveries. This increase occurs primarily in those areas close to the mines. We believe this is the most convincing evidence so far that military attestations do indeed have selection based on unobservable characteristics, but that these effects can be controlled for in a standard regression type analysis.
He will also be discussing the 'industrial growth puzzle', in which the heights of a population decrease as income increases, has been attributed to sample selection bias. Bodenhorn, Guinnane and Mroz (2014, 2013) argue that samples of military heights, which are often used as historical proxies for living standards, are biased because the army selects its recruits not only on observable characteristics but also on unobservable characteristics correlated with height. Variations over time may therefore result from changes in the macroeconomy, or from changes in military strategy or recruitment efforts. We develop a model to explain how changes in military technology can explain the shift in preference from tall to average height recruits. Using several thousand attestation forms of recruits from the Anglo-Boer and the First World War, we find evidence consistent with the predictions of our model. English-born recruits in the Anglo-Boer War were taller than English-born recruits in WWI. Observable characteristics cannot explain the difference. We argue that the mechanized warfare of WWI, in contrast to the traditional military strategies of the Anglo-Boer War, allowed shorter individuals to enlist. Technological change over the period of these two wars largely explains the apparent fall in heights of the English population at the end of the nineteenth century.
Finally he will also discuss his ongoing work and challenges in building a large, intergenerational, annual panel dataset, and more broadly share his ideas on the data revolution in African economic history. A paper summarizing these ideas is attached.
More information about Johan Fourie can be found here