Published by EH.NET (April 2006)

Klaus Schuster, Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung, Sozialstruktur und biologischer Lebensstandard in M?nchen und dem s?dlichen Bayern im 19. Jahrhundert. St. Katharinen: Scripta Mercaturae Verlag, 2005. v + 287 pp. + 1 CD-ROM. ?29 (paperback), ISBN: 3-89590-158-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Daniel Schwekendiek, Department of Economics, University of Tuebingen, Germany.

Klaus Schuster’s Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung, Sozialstruktur und biologischer Lebensstandard in M?nchen und dem s?dlichen Bayern im 19. Jahrhundert (Economic Development, Social Structure and Biological Standard of Living in Munich and Southern Bavaria in the Nineteenth Century) contributes to the burgeoning field of anthropometric history. In a little less than three hundred printed pages (plus a seventy-page appendix on CD-ROM), the book investigates the determinants of the biological standard of living of male recruits living in the seven Southern Bavarian districts (M?nchen Stadt, M?nchen li.d.Isar, M?nchen re.d.Isar, Miesbach, Reichenhall, T?lz, and Wasserburg). The primary evidence is based on roughly 20,000 height measurements collected from army recruits born between 1813 and 1842. As general conscription became enforced by law in 1812, between the ages of 19 and 23, all Bavarian males, privileged or not, had to go to military check-ups. This is an important fact, as all social classes are represented in the conscription lists — at least concerning the cohorts of the male proportion. Thus, Schuster does not have to worry about possible sampling issues. Along with the height measurement, here considered as indicator for the biological standard of living, valuable socio-economic information of the recruit’s place of residence, personal assets, profession, profession of parents and diseases were recorded.

The idea of using data on army recruits is not new in economic history. Neither is applying this kind of research to this region and period. In fact, research on the biological welfare of Bavarians living in the nineteenth century has been largely pioneered by J?rg Baten (Ern?hrung und wirtschaftliche Entwicklung in Bayern, 1730-1880, Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag), to whom Schuster explicitly gives credit by considering his book as an addition to and completion of the research of Baten (p. 17). In essence, in Schuster’s concluding chapter, Baten’s previous research findings are verified.

A major finding is that recruits from the lower class are smaller than recruits from the middle class, who again are smaller than recruits from the upper class. Thus, the social status of parents seems to matter for the biological standard of living of their offspring. Personal assets, which might be correlated to the parents’ status, and diseases, likewise, have an influence on the height of recruits. However, Schuster’s book is not a straight continuation and simple modification of Baten’s research. Indeed, Schuster has invested much time and energy into additional data collection and has raised completely new questions. The key to this study is the outstanding treatment of Miesbach. For this district, Schuster retrieved socio-economic data (marital status, profession, and cause and year of death) from corresponding death registers — not an easy task, given that he had to trace back the lives of thousands of individuals in archives scattered around Bavaria. Into the bargain, Schuster was able to supplement other indicators of the quality of life by using overall and death-specific mortality information. He verifies the inverted U-shaped relation between adult height outcomes and life expectancy, which the landmark study of Norway found.

To address these vital long-term issues, Schuster had to focus more narrowly on this single district and include fewer individuals. Yet, this seems to be an acceptable trade-off. The result is a longitudinal study of individuals, which is rare and refreshing in applied research. In the end, the reader is offered a complete view and analysis on the recruit’s life — from circumstances prevailing at his birth, which were largely determined by his parents’ status, to his situation at conscription as a young adult, to his social status at death.

Readers will find that Schuster has an excellent historical knowledge on the seven regions, where he focuses on the agricultural, service and trade structure of the districts. His ability to consistently use historical knowledge of the regions in discussing the statistical results is impressive. In addition, he goes beyond the secondary literature, examining an important primary source of qualitative evidence, the so-called Physikatsberichte — general reports and impressions of Bavarian doctors on the constitution of their patients.

Schuster provides comprehensive and convincing evidence. At times, he first presents his arguments in a single regression, e.g. an analysis on the social status of the recruits’ parents, afterwards controlling for the recruit’s own social status so that the reader can get the most out of each analysis and see the joint effect. Overall, it is striking that while a lot of quantitative data are provided (not to mention the seventy pages of data in the appendix), the reader is easily able to follow the argumentation as it is well explained, interpreted and balanced in the text. Another commendable feature of the study is the documentation of the categorizations of diseases and professions. Reclassifying 2345 different diseases and 2055 different professions — ad-hoc designations by the recruits at that time — into major groups and classes was definitely not an easy task. Systematic categorization made in Schuster’s book might become helpful for other historians confronted with such raw data.

If there is something to criticize in the form of presentation, it is that there are no cartographic visualizations included. Generally, this does not pose a huge problem, as the bottom line of Schuster’s study is the 20,000 individual observations, and as he only deals with seven different districts one can easily grasp. However, while two maps are included in the appendix, it would make it easier for the reader if they were included in the main body of the text.

In summation, Schuster’s book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the socio-economic history of Bavaria. Last but not least, his research represents an enrichment for science: Schuster’s study on Miesbach is one of the rare accounts where longitudinal socio-economic information of individuals is be combined with their life expectancy, death-specific mortality cause, and especially height measurement. In this sense, it might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between anthropometrists and demographers in the field of economic-historical research.

Daniel Schwekendiek’s major interest is the biological standard of living in South and North Korea. He is currently conducting a study on the rural-urban well-being of children in the world.