Missing girls in 19th-century Spain

by Francisco J. Beltrán Tapia (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

This article is published by the Economic History Review, and it is available here

Gender discrimination, in the form of sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and the mortal neglect of young girls, constitutes a pervasive feature of many contemporary developing countries, especially in South and East Asia and Africa. Son preference stemmed from economic and cultural factors that have long influenced the perceived relative value of women in these regions and resulted in millions of “missing girls”. But, were there “missing girls” in historical Europe? The conventional narrative argues that there is little evidence for this kind of gender discrimination. According to this view, the European household formation system, together with prevailing ethical and religious values, limited female infanticide and the mortal neglect of young girls.

However, several studies suggest that parents treated their sons and daughters differently in 19th-century Britain and continental Europe (see, for instance, here, here or here). These authors stress that an unequal allocation of food, care and/or workload negatively affected girls’ nutritional status and morbidity, which translated in worsened heights and mortality rates. In order to provide more systematic historical evidence of this type of behaviour, our research (with Domingo Gallego-Martínez) relies on sex ratios at birth and at older ages. In the absence of gender discrimination, the number of boys per hundred girls in different age groups is remarkably regular, so comparing the observed figure to the expected (gender-neutral) sex ratio permits assessing the cumulative impact of gender bias in peri-natal, infant and child mortality and, consequently, the importance of potential discriminatory practices. However, although non-discriminatory sex ratios at birth revolve around 105-106 boys per hundred girls in most developed countries today, historical sex ratios cannot be compared directly to modern ones.

We have shown here that non-discriminatory infant and child sex ratios were much lower in the past. The biological survival advantage of girls was more visible in the high-mortality environments that characterised pre-industrial Europe due to poor living conditions, lack of hygiene and the absence of public health systems. Subsequently, boys suffered relatively higher mortality rates both in utero and during infancy and childhood. Historical infant and child sex ratios were therefore relatively low, even in the presence of gender-discriminatory practices. This is illustrated in Figure 1 below which plots the relationship between child sex ratios and infant mortality rates using information from seventeen European countries between 1750 and 2001. In particular, in societies where infant mortality rates were around 250 deaths (per 1,000 live births), a gender-neutral child sex ratio should have been slightly below parity (around 99.5 boys per hundred girls).

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Figure 1. Infant mortality rates and child sex ratios in Europe, 1750-2001

 

Compared to this benchmark, infant and child sex ratios in 19th-century Spain were abnormally high (see black dots in Figure 1 above; the number refers to the year of the observation), thus suggesting that some sort of gender discrimination was unduly increasing female mortality rates at those ages. This pattern, which is not the result of under-enumeration of girls in the censuses, mostly disappeared at the turn of the 20th century. Notwithstanding that average sex ratios remained relatively high in nineteenth- century Spain, some regions exhibited even more extreme figures. In 1860, 54 districts (out of 471) had infant sex ratios above 115, figures that are extremely unlikely to have occurred by chance. Relying on an extremely rich dataset at the district level, our research analyses regional variation in order to examine what lies behind the unbalanced sex ratios. Our results show that the presence of wage labour opportunities for women and the prevalence of extended families in which different generations of women cohabited had beneficial effects on girls’ survival. Likewise, infant and child sex ratios were lower in dense, more urbanized areas.

This evidence thus suggests that discriminatory practices with lethal consequences for girls constituted a veiled feature of pre-industrial Spain. Excess female mortality was then not necessarily the result of ill-treatment of young girls but could have been just based on an unequal allocation of resources within the household, a circumstance that probably cumulated as infants grew older. In contexts where infant and child mortality is high, a slight discrimination in the way that young girls were fed or treated when ill, as well as in the amount of work which they were entrusted with, was likely to have resulted in more girls dying from the combined effect of undernutrition and illness. Although female infanticide or other extreme versions of mistreatment of young girls may not have been a systematic feature of historical Europe, this line of research would point to more passive, but pervasive, forms of gender discrimination that also resulted in a significant fraction of missing girls.

To contact the author:

francisco.beltran.tapia@ntnu.no

Twitter: @FJBeltranTapia

From VoxEU – Wellbeing inequality in retrospect

Rising trends in GDP per capita are often interpreted as reflecting rising levels of general wellbeing. But GDP per capita is at best a crude proxy for wellbeing, neglecting important qualitative dimensions. 36 more words

via Wellbeing inequality in retrospect — VoxEU.org: Recent Articles

To elaborate further on the topic, Prof. Leandro de la Escosura has made available several databases on inequality, accessible here, as well as a book on long-term Spanish economic growth, available as open source here

 

Medieval origins of Spain’s economic geography

The frontier of medieval warfare between Christian and Muslim armies in southern Spain provides a surprisingly powerful explanation of current low-density settlement patterns in those regions. This is the central finding of research by Daniel Oto-Peralías (University of Saint-Andrews), recently presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference in March 2018.

 His study notes that Southern Spain is one of the most deserted areas in Europe in terms of population density, only surpassed by parts of Iceland and the northern part of Scandinavia. It turns out that this outcome has roots going back to medieval times when Spain’s southern plateau was a battlefield between Christian and Muslim armies.

The study documents that Spain stands out in Europe with an anomalous settlement pattern characterised by a very low density in its southern half. Among the ten European regions with the lowest settlement density, six are from southern Spain (while the other four are from Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland).

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On average only 29.8% of 10km2 grid cells are inhabited in southern Spain, which is a much lower percentage than in the rest of Europe (with an average of 74.4%). Extreme geographical and climatic conditions do not seem to be the reason for this low settlement density, which the author refers to as ‘Spanish anomaly’.

After ruling out geography as the main explanatory factor for the ‘Spanish anomaly’, the research investigates its historical roots by focusing on the Middle Ages, when the territory was retaken by the Christian kingdoms from Muslim rule.

The hypothesis is that the region’s character as a militarily insecure frontier conditioned the colonisation of the territory, which is tested by taking advantage of the geographical discontinuity in military insecurity created by the Tagus River in central Spain. Historical ‘accidents’ made the colonisation of the area south of the Tagus River very different from colonisation north of it.

The invasions of North Africa’s Almoravid and Almohad empires converted the territory south of the Tagus into a battlefield for a century and a half, this river being a natural defensive border. Continuous warfare and insecurity heavily conditioned the nature of the colonisation process in this frontier region, which was characterised by the leading role of the military orders as agents of colonisation, scarcity of population and a livestock-oriented economy. It resulted in the prominence of castles and the absence of villages, and consequently, a spatial distribution of the population characterised by a very low density of settlements.

The empirical analysis reveals a large difference in settlement density across the River Tagus, whereas there are no differences in geographical and climatic variables across it. In addition, it is shown that the discontinuity in settlement density already existed in the 16th and 18th centuries, and is not therefore the result of migration movements and urban developments taking place recently. Preliminary evidence also indicates that the territory exposed to the medieval ranching frontier is relatively poorer today.

Thus, the study shows that historical frontiers can decisively shape the economic geography of countries. Using Medieval Spain as a case study, it illustrates how the exposure to warfare and insecurity – typical in medieval frontiers– creates incentives for a militarised colonisation based on a few fortified settlements and a livestock-oriented economy, conditioning the occupation of a territory to such an extent to convert it into one of the most deserted areas in Europe. Given the ubiquity of frontiers in history, the mechanisms underlined in the analysis are of general interest and may operate in other contexts.

Land reform and agrarian conflict in 1930s Spain

Jordi Domènech (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid) and Francisco Herreros (Institute of Policies and Public Goods, Spanish Higher Scientific Council)

Government intervention in land markets is always fraught with potential problems. Intervention generates clearly demarcated groups of winners and losers as land is the main asset owned by households in predominantly agrarian contexts. Consequently, intervention can lead to large, generally welfare-reducing changes in the behaviour of the main groups affected by reform, and to policies being poorly targeted towards potential beneficiaries.

In this paper (available here), we analyse the impact of tenancy reform in the early 1930s on Spanish land markets. Adapting general laws to local and regional variation in land tenure patterns and heterogeneity in rural contracts was one of the problems of agricultural policies in 1930s Spain. In the case of Catalonia in the 1930s, the interest of the case lies in the adaptation of a centralized tenancy reform, aimed at fixed-rent contracts, to sharecropping contracts that were predominant in Catalan agriculture. This was more typically the case of sharecropping contracts on vineyards, the case of customary sharecropping contract (rabassa morta), subject to various legal changes in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is considered that the 1930s culminated a period of conflicts between the so called rabassaires (sharecroppers under rabassa morta contracts) and owners of land.

The divisions between owners of land and tenants was one of the central cleavages of Catalonia in the 20th century. This was so even in an area that had seen substantial industrialization. In the early 1920s, work started on a Catalan law of rural contracts, aimed especially at sharecroppers. A law, passed on the 21st March 1934, allowed the re-negotiation of existing rural contracts and prohibited the eviction of tenants who had been less than 6 years under the same contract. More importantly, it opened the door to forced sales of land to long-term tenants. Such legislative changes posed a threat to the status quo and the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the law was unconstitutional.

The comparative literature on the impacts of land reforms argues that land reform, in this case tenancy reform, can in fact change agrarian structures. When property rights are threatened, landowners react by selling land or interrupting existing tenancy contracts, mechanizing and hiring labourers. Agrarian structure is therefore endogenous to existing threats to property rights. The extent of insecurity in property rights in 1930s Catalonia can be seen in the wave of litigation over sharecropping contracts. Over 30,000 contracts were revised in the courts in late 1931 and 1932 which provoked satirical cartoons (Figure 01).

Untitled
Figure 1. Revisions and the share of the harvest. Source: L’Esquella de la Torratxa, 2nd August 1932, p. 11.
Translation: The rabaissaire question: Peasant: You sweat by coming here to claim your part of the harvest, you would be sweating more if you were to grow it by yourself.

The first wave of petitions to revise contracts led overwhelmingly to most petitions being nullified by the courts. This was most pronounced in the Spanish Supreme Court which ruled against the sharecropper in most of the around 30,000 petitions of contract revision. Nonetheless, sharecroppers were protected by the Catalan autonomous government. The political context in which the Catalan government operated became even more charged in October 1934. That month, with signs that the Centre-Right government was moving towards more reactionary positions, the Generalitat participated in a rebellion orchestrated by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and Left Republicans. It is in this context of suspension of civil liberties that landowners now had a freer hand to evict unruly peasants. The fact that some sharecroppers did not surrender their harvest meant they could be evicted straight away according to the new rules set by the new military governor of Catalonia.

We use the number of cases of completed and initiated tenant evictions from October 1934 to around mid -1935 as the main dependent variable in the paper. Data were collected from a report produced by the main Catalan tenant union, Unió de Rabassaires (Rabassaires’ Union), published in late 1935 to publicize and denounce tenant evictions or attempts of evicting tenants.

Combining the spatial analysis of eviction cases with individual information on evictors and evicted, we can be reasonably confident about several facts around evictions and terminated contracts in 1930s Catalonia. Our data show that that rabassa morta legacies were not the main determinant of evictions. About 6 per cent of terminated contracts were open ended rabassa morta contracts (arbitrarily set at 150 years in the graph). About 12 per cent of evictions were linked to contracts longer than 50 years, which were probably oral contracts (since Spanish legislation had given a maximum of 50 years). Figure 2 gives the contracts lengths of terminated and threatened contracts.

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Figure 2. Histogram of contract lengths. Source: Own elaboration from Unió de Rabassaires, Els desnonaments rústics.

The spatial distribution of evictions is also consistent with the lack of historical legacies of conflict. Evictions were not more common in historical rabassa morta areas, nor were they typical of areas with a larger share of land planted with vines.

Our study provides a substantial revision of claims by unions or historians about very high levels of conflict in the Catalan countryside during the Second Republic. In many cases, there had a long process of adaptation and fine-tuning of contractual forms to crops and soil and climatic conditions which increased the costs of altering existing institutional arrangements.

To contact the authors:

jdomenec@clio.uc3m.es

francisco.herreros@csic.es