Quantifying Quantitative Literacy: Age Heaping and the History of Human Capital
Age data frequently display excess frequencies at round or attractive ages, such as even numbers and multiples of five. This phenomenon of age heaping has been viewed as a problem in previous research, especially in demography and epidemiology. We see it as an opportunity and propose its use as a measure of human capital that can yield comparable estimates across a wide range of historical contexts. A simulation study yields methodological guidelines for measuring and interpreting differences in age heaping, while analysis of contemporary and historical datasets demonstrates the existence of a robust correlation between age heaping and literacy at both the individual and aggregate level. To illustrate the method, we generate estimates of human capital in Europe over the very long run, which support the hypothesis of a major increase in human capital preceding the industrial revolution.
Human Capital, Age Heaping, Growth, Industrial Revolution, Numeracy
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