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«Gareth Austin*, Jörg Baten**, Alexander Moradi*** * London School of Economics ** Univ. of Tuebingen and CESifo *** CSAE/GPRG, Univ. of Oxford ...»

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Exploring the evolution of living standards in Ghana, 1880An anthropometric approach

Gareth Austin*, Jörg Baten**, Alexander Moradi***

* London School of Economics

** Univ. of Tuebingen and CESifo

*** CSAE/GPRG, Univ. of Oxford

E-mail: alexander.moradi@economics.ox.ac.uk



How did living standards in Ghana develop in the long run? The obvious constraint

for a long-term perspective is the limited amount of good data and a consistent

measure of human well-being. This is especially the case for the period of colonial rule. Using anthropometric techniques we explore the evolution of living standards and regional inequality in Ghana from 1880 to 2000.

Ghana provides an extremely interesting case study. Major economic and social changes took place in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The development of the agricultural export economy, already under way since the decline of the Atlantic slave trade, was consolidated by the adoption of cocoa, of which Ghana became the world’s leading producer. Cocoa farms, and European-owned mines, eventually attracted extensive migrant labour. Railways and lorries revolutionised transport. Medical knowledge spread. Our findings suggest that, overall, living standards improved during colonial times and that a trend reversal only occurred after the economic crisis in the 1970s. This fact is challenging prominent explanations of colonial legacy and allows insights into the institutional argument for growth.

Acknowledgments We are grateful to the General Headquarters of the Ghana Armed Forces, Personnel and Administration and Director and Staff, Military Records for granting us access to records of the Gold Coast Regiment. We thank Moses Awoonor-Williams for excellent assistance in Ghana and especially David Killingray, who shared with us his expert knowledge on the Gold Coast Regiment. Data collection was funded by a British Academy Small Research Grant to the third author, the financial support is gratefully acknowledged.

1. Introduction Lack of ‘pro-growth’ institutions is a frequently cited cause for the disappointing economic trajectories of African countries since independence. 1 But what factors influenced institutions at the first place? A growing literature stresses colonial legacies. Acemoglu et al. (2001) argued that places with a favourable health environment attracted European settlers who brought growth promoting institutions with them. In contrast, at places where white settlers could not survive, colonial powers set up extractive states. Several studies argued that the identity of the colonizer influenced later institutions and policy choices and found that former British colonies did comparatively better than former French ones (Bertocchi and Canova, 2002; Englebert, 2000; Grier, 1999; Price, 2003). Lange (2004) distinguished between the British colonies that were governed directly and those that were governed indirectly (through local rulers) and found negative legacies in the case of the latter.

More recently, Nunn (2006) argued that Africa’s external slave trades have had adverse effects on the quality of the judicial system and rule of law in African countries after Independence. He concluded that the number of exported slaves significantly explains differences in GDP per capita in 1998.2 The colonial era also left many ethnically highly fractionalized states in Africa (Mamdani, 1996), a phenomenon which was argued to be associated with rent-seeking behaviour and corruption that, again, lowers economic growth (Easterly and Levine, 1997; Mauro, 1995).

The literature follows, by and large, the same methodology. Proxy variables that measure attributes or episodes in the (colonial) past are used to predict postindependence differences in levels of GDP per capita or economic growth. This approach can be criticized. Cross-country regressions do not explain changes over time as, by definition, they explain differences observed between countries.

Moreover, the measures of colonial legacy can not change. If values in the dependent variable change, they must trigger a change in the relationship, and then, oddly, interpretations must be adjusted. Temporal inconsistencies can arise by a reversal of fortunes in the future. However, what accounts for the huge variation during the For a more positive assessment of the record, see Sender and Smith (1986) and Sender (1999).

Nunn (2006) could not find an effect on GDP/c in 1960. Apparently, instead that the effect dies out, it just emerged in the last 50 years.

colonial era itself? Were colonial times really as bad for the indigenous population as commonly believed?

In this paper, we study the long-term development of one country in detail. We present quantitative evidence that this country’s experience in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century challenges the prevailing wisdom that colonial times were bad for colonial economies. We chose Ghana as our case study because of her most interesting history. A number of European powers established trading posts at the coast from 1481 onwards. They played a prominent role in the slave trade: from there, the slaves, which were captured in the Northern savanna zone or at the coastal South in wars or kidnappings, were shipped to the Americas. Nearly a tenth of all transatlantic slave departures occurred from the Gold Coast (Eltis, 2001: Table II).

The external slave trade declined after the British withdrawal from it with effect from

1808. The British colonized the southern part of what is now Ghana in 1874, and extended their rule over the inland forest kingdom of Ashanti,3 and the northern savanna in 1896, adding part of the former German colony of Togoland during the First World War. The colonizers governed the country by indirect rule, through the chiefs. The country is located in the tropics with its particularly harsh disease environment (Curtin, 1989). The number of white settlers was close to nil. Like many other African countries, Ghana comprises a considerable number of ethnic groups, whose identities were far from simply colonial-era inventions (Lentz and Nugent, 2000).4 Judged by these short facts, the prominent explanations seem to be confirmed:

With this history, Ghana is a poor country today.

In that context one might also expect a poor development during colonial times.

However, Ghana was the most successful of the cash-crop exporting economies of tropical Africa. This was based on African farmers’ adoption of and investment in cocoa cultivation. Exports of cocoa beans rose from zero in 1890 to the largest in the world in 1910-11 (Hill, 1997). Szereszewski’s early attempt at historical national income accounting estimated annual average per capita growth in GDP as 1.8% between 1891 and 1911. Meanwhile non-traditional capital stock rose from £0.8 million at the end of 1890 to £13.8 million at the end of 1910, in 1911 prices Following convention, we use ‘Ashanti’ to refer to the kingdom or administrative region; ‘Asante’ to refer to its people.

The index of ethno-linguistic fractionalisation, which gives the probability that two randomly selected individuals will not belong to the same ethnic group, is 73% (Taylor and Jodice, 1983). The index refers to the situation in the early 1960s.

(Szereszewski, 1965: 91). This does not fully reflect the significance of the capital formation, as its main component was the planting of cocoa trees whose peak yields lay ahead. More recent research has shown that the cocoa take-off emerged from a context of pre-existing market production in the late precolonial period, when the external slave trade gave way to palm oil exports from the coast, and kola nut exports from Ashanti to northern Nigeria (Abaka, 2004; Austin, 1995, 1996; Reynolds, 1974).

This earlier growth was based partly on the internal slave trade which brought captives from the northern savanna were directed into commodity production in the south. The raiding and trading of slaves was suppressed by the incoming colonial authorities, though in Ashanti and the Northern Territories slave-holding was only prohibited in 1908 (Austin, 2005). Meanwhile the growth of the agricultural export economy was facilitated by a revolution in transport brought about by railways and lorries (Austin, 2007). A wage labour market developed with large numbers of labourers migrating to the cocoa farms and European-owned mines in the forest zone.

Education spread (Gifford and Weiskel, 1971) and medical and hygienic knowledge became more advanced (Addae, 1997). Development, however, was very uneven across the country, and the rapid growth and structural change of the early colonial era was not matched over the rest of the period (Austin, 2003; Teal, 2002).

How did living standards develop in the long run? The obvious constraints on answering this question are the limited amount of good data and the need for a consistent measure of human well-being. Anthropometric methods provide a way to overcome these limitations. Human stature reflects biological components of human welfare (Komlos, 1989). Children’s bodily development responds very sensitively to deprivation and insults. The quality and quantity of nutrition affect bodily growth positively, whereas diseases and physical exertion absorb nutrients and therefore stunt growth. Final adult height represents the cumulative sum of increases in stature over the full duration of bodily growth. However, the years are not all equally important.

Conditions during the early years of life largely determine the adult stature (Baten, 2000; Martorell and Habicht, 1986). In the first three years of life, the height stock of healthy and well-nourished children increases by about 45 cm on average (Kuczmarski et al., 2002). A growth shortfall at that age is likely to be large in absolute terms. Moreover, toddlerhood is a very critical and vulnerable period. The combination of high nutritional demand and exposure to pathogens after weaning make adverse environmental conditions very effective in growth faltering (Martorell and Habicht, 1986). Empirically, height deficits at early ages are unlikely to be regained and will be carried on up to maturity (Billewicz and McGregor, 1982;

Hauspie et al., 1980). Recently, and for African populations only, also environmental influences at puberty were found to be significant predictors for adult height (Moradi, 2006).

It is worth mentioning that genetics does not play an important role at the population level. In egalitarian and homogeneous societies, heights of individuals vary for genetic reasons. However, in every society there are similar numbers of genetically tall and genetically short people so that low and high genetic potential cancel each other out when taking the average height of populations (Steckel, 1995).

Evidence for the overwhelming influence of environmental conditions comes from anthropometric studies which found large height differences between rich and poor people of the same ethnic group, more so than between socioeconomic elites of different ethnic groups (Eksmyr, 1970; Eveleth and Tanner, 1990; Habicht et al., 1974). Ten-year-old girls from Accra, Ghana, for example, who went to an expensive international school, were found to have an average stature equal to that of US girls of same age. The privileged Accra girls, however, were six centimetres taller than girls of same age going to Accra’s state schools, who in turn were two centimetres taller than girls from rural areas in Southern Ghana (Fiawoo, 1979). Finally, we can rule out the notion that changes in mean height over such a period as short as 120 years could be caused by what was actually a rather constant genetic pool of populations (Bogin, 1999).

Mean adult heights illuminate the nutritional and health conditions a population cohort has faced. However, average stature should not narrowly be regarded as a proxy of net nutritional status. Stature can be rather broadly considered as a measure of the physical quality of life. A healthy life free of hunger is an important and universally accepted dimension of human welfare. Heights particularly reflect how well basic needs are met; they are determined by the manifold faces of poverty, such as hunger, low-nutrient diets, poor housing and sanitary conditions, contaminated food and water, no or limited access to medical care and child labour. There are several additional advantages (Steckel, 1995). The stature measure is applicable to diverse societies including those with modern economic structures and traditional production systems. Heights measure outcomes not inputs to human well-being and last but not least, the analysis of stature can be based on a large population coverage.

Height data is available for groups we are interested in: the indigenous population of Ghana.

The paper is structured as follows. In section 2, we present the data source. In section 3, we describe differences in mean stature within Ghana and how well-being approximated by height has changed in the period 1880-1920. We examine factors that can possibly explain the observed spatial and temporal pattern. Section 4 adds Ghana’s experience of the second half of the twentieth century to the analysis. The final section concludes.

2. Data

It proved extremely difficult to mobilize height data in sufficient quantity and quality for the colonial period. Finally, in attestation forms of the Gold Coast Regiment (GCR) we found a great source that allows height estimation for 1880s to 1920s birth cohorts. For identification purposes and as a measure of physical fitness the height of enlistees was measured on enlistment and recorded on attestation papers.

Additional information include date of enlistment, age, previous occupation, father’s occupation, place of birth, the soldier’s signature (literacy), ethnicity and religion. 5 The GCR was the colonial army in the Gold Coast which later became Ghana.

The regiment’s primary role was to maintain internal security of the colony. The troops were deployed in the interior, in 1900 when putting down the Asante uprising, for pacification of the Northern Territories, and, for occasional punitive expeditions (Killingray, 1991). The labour force was also used in road building. It was a small force numbering between 1200 and 1700 men (Killingray, 1982a). The rank and file were drawn from the indigenous population, as they were cheaper and less vulnerable to the African disease environment than Europeans.

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