Thursday, 11 November 2021

Death, sex and fertility: Female infanticide in rural Spain, 1750-1950

By Francisco J. Beltrán Tapia and (Norwegian University of Science and Technology; CEPR) and Francisco J. Marco-Gracia (University of Zaragoza; Instituto Agroalimentario de Aragón). Blog post based on the article with the same name published in the European Review of Economic History (here).

 

Many pre-industrial societies regulated population size by resorting to infanticide and the mortal neglect of unwanted infants and children (Langer 1972; Harris and Ross 1987; Hrdy 1999). These practices have traditionally targeted girls in India, China and Japan, among other countries characterised by strong patriarchal traditions that favour males (Das Gupta el al. 2003; Bhaskar and Gupta 2007; Drixler 2013). Women’s status in historical Europe was definitely more advantageous than in other parts of the world but Europe was not a gender-equal paradise and women were discriminated against in many dimensions (Szoltysek et al. 2017; Carmichael and Rijpma 2017; Dilli et al. 2019). In this regard, although the traditional narrative nonetheless defends that European families did not neglect their female babies (Derosas and Tsuya 2010; Lynch 2011), several studies suggest that female infanticide, as a means of controlling the size and sex composition of their offspring, was more widespread that commonly thought, especially in Southern Europe (Hanlon 2016; Beltrán Tapia and Raftakis 2021; Echavarri 2021).

By relying on the parish records of all the population living in a rural Spanish region between 1750 and 1950 (almost 60,000 individuals), this article evidences that discriminatory practices increased female mortality shortly after birth. Firstly, aggregate sex ratios obtained from baptismal records were exceptionally high, at least until the late 19th century (figure 1). Secondly, the individual-level information shows that the probability of being male at baptism was significantly higher when there were no previous male siblings alive, a feature that could trigger discrimination in the presence of son preference. Likewise, as evidenced by death registers, female survival chances during the first one or two days of life were also negatively affected by this same feature, as well as by the number of siblings alive. These findings seem to be concentrated at higher parities and among landless and semi-landless families which were subject to harsher economic conditions and therefore more likely to resort to extreme decisions under difficult circumstances.

Figure 1. Sex ratios at baptism, 1575-1975



Note: 25-year moving average. Dotted lines represent the 95 per cent confidence interval. Source: AMHDB.

 

Crucially, the fact that the results are robust to employing data from birth and death registers rules out the possibility that under-registration explains this pattern: although female misreporting would bias sex ratios at birth upwards, it would have the opposite effect on mortality rates. Taken together, these findings strongly support the idea that a significant fraction of female babies were neglected or disposed away. These discriminatory patterns affecting female mortality shortly after birth disappeared during the first decades of the 20th century, as soon as the demographic transition and other economic, social and cultural changes reduced general mortality rates and undermined the strong son preference detected here.

The mortal neglect of girls shortly after birth was probably a conscious family decision that affected a number of families under certain circumstances. Apart from the need to provide dowries for their daughters, the fact that there existed less female waged labour opportunities also militated against girls. The sources are though silent regarding how these girls went missing. There were of course many ways of disposing of unwanted children and these crimes were easy to commit and difficult to prove (starvation, dehydration, strangulation, drugged to death, smothering, exposure to elements, etc. It is also plausible that families could have not striven enough to keep them alive especially during the crucial first hours of life. Given that there is hardly any anecdotal evidence on female infanticide, our findings suggest that some families disguised female infanticide or neglect as natural deaths.

The evidence provided here shows that families especially targeted girls, but boys could have undoubtedly fell victims to these practices as well. This article therefore not only challenges the notion that there were no missing girls in historical Europe, but also suggests that these families regulated the size and sex composition of their offspring. These findings have important implications for our understanding of the traditional demographic regime and the subsequent transition to lower fertility and mortality rates because the relatively low number of children raised by these families cannot be longer explained solely by the use of different methods to reduce fertility either indirectly (delaying age at marriage or celibacy) or directly (spacing or stopping). By increasing the mortality of their unwanted children, these families also adopted a “death control”. The gradual disappearance of these practices would therefore partly contribute to explaining the decline in fertility and mortality that took place during the demographic transition. Likewise, the fact that many of these deaths escaped from birth and death registers also indicates that fertility and mortality rates in these areas were higher than what it has been traditionally assumed.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

War inflation as an agent of income tax modernization

Sara Torregrosa-Hetland

Oriol Sabaté

 

The World Wars were associated with progressive tax policies in most Western countries. Top marginal income tax rates increased to unprecedented levels, while other fiscal instruments, such as excess profits taxes, were implemented during the wars to meet the extraordinary revenue needs (Scheve and Stasavage, 2016).

In the income tax, this leap in progressive reforms came along with the broadening of the tax base, which brought for the first time low and middle incomes into the tax (Brownlee, 1996; Broadberry and Howlett, 1998, 2005; Rockoff, 2012). This fundamental transformation was the result of both regulatory changes, which reduced exemption limits and personal deductions, and high levels of inflation, which eroded the real value of these same exemption limits and deductions, pushing incomes previously excluded from paying the tax into the fiscal net (even though their real incomes did not increase).

Our latest paper published in EREH (Torregrosa-Hetland and Sabaté, 2021a) quantifies the role that inflation played in the downward expansion of the tax during the World Wars. We first clarify and estimate the ways in which inflation affects the distribution of income tax due across different levels of income, and, second, calculate its effects on tax progressivity and redistribution. Specifically, we analyze the income taxes of Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States, by comparing the actual operation of the tax with alternative counterfactual scenarios of lower or no inflation (here, as in the paper, we concentrate on our first counterfactual, defined by the level of inflation over the five pre-war years). The exercise is based on disaggregating the original tabulated tax data (following Blanchet et al., 2017), and imputing income tax payments to the synthetic observations according to the regulations in place (see also Torregrosa-Hetland and Sabaté, 2021b).

Inflation expanded the tax: more taxpayers, more revenue

Our results show that inflation was indeed a powerful mechanism for the downward expansion of the tax. By the end of World War I, 75% of British taxpayers had been incorporated into the fiscal net by excess inflation. This figure reached 68% and 38% in Sweden and the United States respectively. The impact of inflation by 1920 in Sweden was so extreme that these new taxpayers amounted to 28% of the total tax units in the country (i.e., of the total number of potential tax returns if everyone would have been required to file). During World War II, nearly 4 million British taxpayers started paying the tax for no other reason than nominal increases in their incomes (see Table 1).

Table 1. Additional taxpayers brought in by inflation

Country

Year

Scenario

New taxpayers brought in by inflation

Absolute number

Percent of total taxpayers

Percent of total tax units

Sweden

1920

1

933,924

71%

30%

1920

2

876,513

68%

28%

1946

1

292,665

11%

8%

1946

2

166,053

6%

4%

United Kingdom

1919

1

2,913,250

77%

12%

1919

2

2,840,603

75%

12%

1949

1

6,282,209

45%

24%

1949

2

4,013,889

29%

15%

United States

1919

1

1,488,373

44%

4%

1919

2

1,300,997

38%

3%

1946

1

2,670,648

6%

5%

1946

2

1,484,428

4%

3%

 

Inflation did not only bring new taxpayers into the tax, but also pushed existing taxpayers into higher tax brackets (due to the erosion of the real value of bracket limits and deductions). As a result, inflation was responsible for as much as 80% of the income tax revenue in Sweden in 1920, and near 65% and 57% in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1919 (see Table 2). Of this additional “inflation revenue”, the majority was paid by existing taxpayers that had been pushed into higher tax brackets (84% in Sweden by the end of World War I, and above 90% in the United Kingdom and the United States; see Table 3). New taxpayers entered massively into the tax during the two wars, but their relatively low effective tax rates (particularly during World War I) made the revenue impact more modest in absolute terms.

Table 2. Additional income tax revenue brought in by inflation

Country

Year

Scenario

New tax revenue brought in by inflation

Million current krs / £ / $

Percent of total income tax revenue

Sweden

1920

1

145

82%

1920

2

142

80%

1946

1

588

44%

1946

2

391

29%

United Kingdom

1919

1

210

67%

1919

2

200

64%

1949

1

822

67%

1949

2

602

49%

United States

1919

1

880

63%

1919

2

801

57%

1946

1

7,629

41%

1946

2

4,966

27%

Table 3. Distribution of the additional revenue caused by inflation between taxpayer groups

Country

Year

Scenario

New taxpayers brought in by inflation

Rest of taxpayers

Top 10% of tax units

Top 1% of tax units

Sweden

1920

1

17.3%

82.7%

80.6%

52.3%

1920

2

15.2%

84.8%

80.3%

52.0%

1946

1

3.9%

96.1%

57.0%

27.3%

1946

2

2.9%

97.1%

56.9%

27.1%

United Kingdom

1919

1

8.0%

92.0%

97.8%

76.6%

1919

2

7.6%

92.4%

97.6%

76.1%

1949

1

17.3%

82.7%

66.7%

33.5%

1949

2

13.4%

86.6%

65.0%

32.3%

United States

1919

1

8.0%

92.0%

99.9%

80.6%

1919

2

7.1%

92.9%

99.9%

80.4%

1946

1

0.7%

99.3%

55.0%

31.0%

1946

2

0.4%

99.6%

54.7%

30.6%

 

Inflation made the income tax less progressive, but more redistributive

What was the impact of these changes in the progressivity of the income tax? Since the increases in tax burden were, in relative terms, more intense at the bottom of the income distribution, inflation had a regressive effect. This was particularly true in the United Kingdom during World War I. Figure 1 and 2 show the extent to which low and middle incomes became subject to higher average effective tax rates by the end of the wars due to inflation.

Figure 1. Average effective tax rates under different inflation scenarios at the end of WWI


Figure 2. Average effective tax rates under different inflation scenarios at the end of WWII


Interestingly, though, the impact of inflation on redistribution was positive. While inflation reduced the level of progressivity, it increased the size of a still progressive tax, which in turn increased the amount of income that was placed into the redistributive channel. For instance, the British income tax reduced inequality by 5.11 Gini points in 1919, and no less than 28% of this effect was caused by accumulated excess inflation since 1913. In this way, inflation was one of the drivers of the transition from a ‘class tax’ into a ‘mass tax’: one that obtained revenue from most of the population, forming a strong basis for fiscal citizenship, and which became one of the major redistributive instruments of the post-war era/for decades to come.

 

References

BLANCHET, T., FOURNIER, J., and PIKETTY, T. (2017): Generalized Pareto Curves: Theory and Applications. WID.world Working Paper Series 2017/3.

BROADBERRY, S. and HOWLETT, P. (1998): 'The United Kingdom: ‘Victory at all costs’', in M. Harrison (Ed.), The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 43-80.

BROADBERRY, S. and HOWLETT, P. (2005): 'The United Kingdom during World War I: business as usual?', in S. Broadberry and M. Harrison (eds.) The Economics of World War I, New York: Cambridge University Press, 206-234.

BROWNLEE, E. (1996): Federal Taxation in America: A History, New York: Cambridge University Press.

ROCKOFF, H. (2012). America’s Economic Way of War. War and the US Economy from the Spanish-American War to the Persian Gulf War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

SCHEVE, K., and D. STASAVAGE (2016): Taxing the Rich. A History of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe. Princeton University Press.

TORREGROSA-HETLAND, S., and SABATÉ, O. (2021a): 'Income tax progressivity and inflation during the World Wars', forthcoming in European Review of Economic History.

TORREGROSA-HETLAND, S., and SABATÉ, O. (2021b): 'Income taxes and redistribution in the early twentieth century', Lund Papers in Economic History: General Issues; no. 224.