Between 1850 and 1910, most US censuses asked whether an individual was deaf. There were four alternative descriptions among the combinations of deafness and dumbness. Seems straightforward enough. The problem is that these aren’t discrete categories, they’re continuous. That is, one’s ability to hear can be zero, very good, bad, or just middling. What constitutes the threshold for deafness? In practice, it was the discretion of the enumerator. Understandably, there was a lot of variation in judgement from one enumerator to another. A lot of older people were categorized as deaf, even if they had some hearing loss.Continue reading
Do you know how old you are?
I’m 33. Specifically, I’m 33 years, 29 days old. I don’t know the time of day that I was born, but my mom probably remembers within a couple of hours. My dad did not keep track of my age. Growing up, it was normal for him to take me to a sports registration event and need to ask me for plenty of my details in order to complete the paperwork.
Do you know the age of your children? Is it normal for parents to lose track? Or is it just the dads? …Or just my dad? I have no idea what is typical.
But I do have some decent evidence that, had my dad lived in 1850, he would not have been such an anomaly. Consider exhibit A: A histogram of US ages in 1850. The population was only about 23 million at the time and we have the age for about 19 million of those people. So the graph is relatively representative (IPUMS census data).
Do you notice anything weird about the graph?
That’s the question I asked my Western Economic History class.Continue reading