DP14261 Cognition, Culture, and State Capacity: Age-Heaping in XIX Century Italy

Author(s): Brian A'Hearn, Alexia Delfino, Alessandro Nuvolari
Publication Date: December 2019
Keyword(s): Age-Heaping, Human Capital, Italy, Numeracy
JEL(s): J24, N33
Programme Areas: Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14261

We re-examine the causes and interpretation of age-heaping in a case study of nineteenth century Italy. Italian census data allow us to calculate age-heaping measures by province, education, gender, and marital status. Our results validate the use of age-heaping as a proxy for human capital, but also reveal anomalies difficult to reconcile with a pure numeracy interpretation. Alongside individual cognitive ability, the census data clearly suggest a role for contextual factors in shaping age-heaping patterns. Direct evidence from Italian social and political history buttresses the case for culture and state capacity as determinants of age-heaping. Age-heaping and illiteracy are well correlated because both are reflections of an underlying process of modernisation, a process which, in nineteenth century Italy, was slow and incomplete.