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



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.