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How did women count? A note on gender-specific age heaping differences in the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries

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Abstract

The role of human capital in economic growth is now largely uncontested. One indicator of human capital frequently used for the pre-1900 period is age heaping, which has been increasingly used to measure gender-specific differences. In this note, we find that in some historical samples, married women heap significantly less than unmarried women. This is still true after correcting for possible selection effects. A possible explanation is that a percentage of women adapted their ages to that of their husbands, hence biasing the Whipple index. We find the same effect to a lesser extent for men. Since this bias differs over time and across countries, a consistent comparison of female age heaping should be made by focusing on unmarried women.

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