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Birth weight of newborns as a mirror of women’s standard of living: Evidence from birth records in the city of Basle 1888-1939

Applicant Woitek Ulrich
Number 156683
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Lehrstuhl International Trade and Finance Institut für empirische Wirtschaftsforschung Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Economics
Start/End 01.01.2015 - 31.08.2018
Approved amount 442'689.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Discipline
Economics
Swiss history
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (4)

Biological standard of living; Switzerland; Economic History; Birth weight

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Die Geburtsmasse neugeborener Kinder stehen in einer engen Beziehung zum Ernährungsstatus und den gesellschaftlichen und ökonomischen Lebensbedingungen der Mutter während der Schwangerschaft. Insbesondere das Geburtsgewicht ist ein gebräuchlicher Indikator für den Lebensstandard der Frauen, es widerspiegelt die Einflüsse der Umwelt während der Schwangerschaft. Dieser Zusammenhang ist besonders für Arbeiten mit historischem Fokus wertvoll, da traditionelle Indikatoren des Lebensstandards für die Vergangenheit häufig nicht (mehr) existieren.
Lay summary
Das Forschungsprojekt analysiert die Krankengeschichten der geburtshilflichen Abteilung des Frauenspitals des Kantons Basel-Stadt zwischen 1888 und 1939 (über 27'000 Geburtsberichte). Dank der darin enthaltenen, detaillierten Schwangerschafts- und Geburtsinformationen können alle relevanten medizinischen Kontrollfaktoren berücksichtigt werden, die das Geburtsgewicht mit beeinflussen. Zusätzlich sind die massgeblichen gesellschaftlichen und ökonomischen Lebensumstände der Eltern in den Geburtsregistern enthalten (Beruf der Eltern, Wohnort). Gegenstand der Untersuchung ist die Frage nach dem Zusammenhang zwischen traditionellen Wohlfahrtsindikatoren (wie Reallöhne, durchschnittliche Körperhöhe der Männer, Kindersterblichkeit, oder der Lebenserwartung) und den Geburtsgewichten. Darüber hinaus erlaubt der Datensatz Aussagen über den biologischen Lebensstandard von Frauen (gemessen anhand der Geburtsgewichte ihrer neugeborenen Kindern und ihrer eigenen Erwachsenen-Körperhöhen).
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 16.12.2014

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Impact of World War 1 on placenta weight, birth weight and other anthropometric parameters of neonatal health
Butie Claire, Matthes Katarina L., Hösli Irene, Floris Joël, Staub Kaspar (2020), Impact of World War 1 on placenta weight, birth weight and other anthropometric parameters of neonatal health, in Placenta, 1.
Survival of the weakest? Culling evidence from the 1918 flu pandemic
FlorisJoël, KaiserLaurent, StaubKaspar, WoitekUlrich (2019), Survival of the weakest? Culling evidence from the 1918 flu pandemic, Working paper series / Department of Economics , University of Zurich.
Ladies first: Female and male adult height in Switzerland, 1770-1930.
Koepke Nikola, Floris Joël, Pfister Christian, Rühli Frank J, Staub Kaspar (2018), Ladies first: Female and male adult height in Switzerland, 1770-1930., in Economics and human biology, 29, 76-87.
Der vermessene menschliche Körper als Spiegel der Ernährungs- und Gesundheitsverhältnisse am Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges
Staub Kaspar (2016), Der vermessene menschliche Körper als Spiegel der Ernährungs- und Gesundheitsverhältnisse am Ende des Ersten Weltkrieges, in Segesser Daniel Marc, Pfister Christian, Krämer Daniel (ed.), Schwabe, Basel, 285-305.
The benefits of intervention: birth weights in Basle 1912-1920
FlorisJoël, StaubKaspar, WoitekUlrich (2016), The benefits of intervention: birth weights in Basle 1912-1920, Working paper series / Department of Economics, University of Zurich.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Jonathan Wells, UCL GOS Institute of Child Health Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Marec Brabec, Academy of Science of the Czech Republic Czech Republic (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
Irene Hösli, Universitätsspital Basel Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Dr. Dr. med. Frank Rühli Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Jahresversammlung Verein für Socialpolitik Talk given at a conference Survival of the weakest? Culling evidence from the 1918 Flu Pandemic 02.09.2018 Freiburg i. Br., Germany Floris Joël;
World Economic History Congress Talk given at a conference Survival of the Weakest? Culling Evidence from the 1918 Flu Pandemic 29.07.2018 Boston, United States of America Mayr Harald;
EuHEA Maastricht Talk given at a conference Long-Run Consequences of In-Utero Exposure to Influenza – Zurich 1889/1890 14.07.2018 EUHEA Conference Maastricht University and Maastricht University Medical Center+, Netherlands Wüthrich Gabriela;
Annual Congress of the Swiss Society for Economics and Statistics Poster Survival of the Weakest? Culling Evidence from the 1918 Flu Pandemic 14.06.2018 St. Gallen, Switzerland Mayr Harald;
Seminar at KOF Swiss Economic Institute (ETH) Individual talk The Benefits of Intervention: Birth Weights in Basle 1912-1920 06.06.2018 KOF Swiss Economic Institute (ETH), Switzerland Woitek Ulrich;
Hunger Draws the Map Symposium Talk given at a conference Measuring Hunger 16.05.2018 Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Floris Joël; Staub Kaspar;
Twelfth Conference of the European Historical Economics Society Talk given at a conference Long-Run Consequences of In-Utero Exposure to Influenza: Zurich 1889/1890 01.09.2017 University of Tubingen, Germany Woitek Ulrich; Wüthrich Gabriela; Floris Joël;
Congress of the International Health Economics Association Talk given at a conference Survival of the weakest? Culling evidence from the 1918 Flu Pandemic 08.07.2017 Boston, United States of America Mayr Harald;
8th World Congress of Cliometrics Talk given at a conference Long-Run Consequences of In-Utero Exposure to Influenza: Zurich 1889/1890 04.07.2017 University of Strasbourg, France Floris Joël; Woitek Ulrich;
Seminar at Hoover Institution Library & Archives Talk given at a conference Hunger Draws the Map: Blockade and Food Shortage in Europe, 1914-1922 05.04.2017 Stanford, United States of America Floris Joël;
Berlin Colloquium for Economic History Individual talk Birthweight Inequality in Basle during World War I 04.11.2015 HU Berlin, Germany Woitek Ulrich;
Eleventh Conference of the European Historical Economics Society Talk given at a conference Birthweight Inequality in Basle during World War I 04.09.2015 Pisa, Italy Woitek Ulrich; Floris Joël;
Evolutionary Medicine Conference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Human Health and Disease Poster Birth weight inequality in Basle during World War I 30.07.2015 Zurich, Switzerland Floris Joël;


Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Middle Class Losers SNF Horizons International 2017

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
197305 Birth weights and other anthropometrics of neonates as a mirror of (maternal) living standards in Lausanne, 1905-1925 01.07.2021 Project funding (Div. I-III)
146713 Sports and the Biological Standard of Living 01.01.2014 Project funding (Div. I-III)
174650 Promoting child nutrition and soap through the village network: Evidence from a field experiment in Malawi 01.01.2018 Doc.Mobility

Abstract

A newborn's body size and further development is considerably inter-related with the nutritional status and socio-economic conditions of the mother during pregnancy. On the level of a population or its subgroups, birth weight is a useful anthropometric measure to analyse women's living standard and the short-term environmental impacts during pregnancy. This is particularly the case in a historical context, when other data sources for the standard of living are lacking. We plan to analyze data from the birth records at the university maternity hospital (Frauenspital) of the canton Basle-Stadt in the period 1888-1939. The individual records (N>27000) we will transcribe allow to control for the essential medical determinants of birth weight known from the literature. In addition, we have information on the socio-economic background of each family (occupation of the parents, residential address).In economic and anthropometric history, average adult height has been established since the 1970s to assess human well-being. We will link the birth records of boys with the outcome of their medical and pedagogical examination as young men during mandatory conscription 19 years later. This enables us to analyze the relationship between weight of boys at birth, their socio-economic background and their educational achievement, height, health and physical fitness at conscription.Our project is the first in Switzerland using birth weight as an anthropometric indicator to measure the standard of living and social inequality in the past. The existing literature on the interrelationship between biological measures and the standard of living has mainly relied on male adult height from military recruitment records. Thus, compared to the biological standard of living of men, measuring women's well-being has remained a widely neglected field. Our study will help to shed light on the question to what extent the female biological standard of living (measured by birth weight of the child and adult height of the mother) corresponds to already existing evidence indicated by standard of living measures such as real wages, male average height, infant mortality, female participation in the labor market, or life expectancy in the city of Basle during the observation period.
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