Monday, March 25, 2013

"How the Mid-Victorians Worked, Ate and Died"


Analysis of the mid-Victorian period in the U.K. reveals that life expectancy at age 5 was as good or better than exists today, and the incidence of degenerative disease was 10% of ours. Their levels of physical activity and hence calorific intakes were approximately twice ours. They had relatively little access to alcohol and tobacco; and due to their correspondingly high intake of fruits, whole grains, oily fish and vegetables, they consumed levels of micro- and phytonutrients at approximately ten times the levels considered normal today.

Within two generations, however, male health nationally had deteriorated to such an extent that in 1900, five out of 10 young men volunteering for the second Boer War had to be rejected because they were so undernourished. They were not starved, but had been consuming the wrong foods

The fall in nutritional standards between 1880 and 1900 was so marked that the generations were visibly and progressively shrinking. In 1883 the infantry were forced to lower the minimum height for recruits from 5ft 6 inches to 5ft 3 inches. This was because most new recruits were now coming from an urban background instead of the traditional rural background (the 1881 census showed that over three-quarters of the population now lived in towns and cities).


Unknown said...

This is an ex-tre-me-ly flawed article based upon very bad data. The 1850's period was actually very bad (potato blight, misharvests of rye). Much better information based upon better sources and more thorough quatification can be found here for the USA and the UK:

and here:

And on the Netherlands:

Merijn Knibbe

CP said...

Thanks for the correction.

What's your take overall, though?

Anonymous said...

"This was quite an exciting article to write. It took me from the lead mines in southern Spain and the silver mines of Laurium, Greece, in the days of the Romans to the the deserts of Egypt in the time of the pharaos as well as to the Cerro Ricco in Peru in the sixteenth and seventeenth century as well as to the gold mines of South Africa in the twentieth one. In all cases, bounded labour was used to delve precious ores crucial for minting the coins which financed empires. Conficts in Spain, Slaves in Laurium and Egypt, bounded indigenous labour in Peru and bounded African labour in South Africa. All of them worked (and some of their descendants still work) under appalling and extremely dangerous circumstances. These were the real costs of, literally, making money."

(PDF) The real costs of making money.
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