2016/35 LEM Working Paper Series

Rethinking Age-Heaping. A Cautionary Tale from Nineteenth Century Italy

Brian A'Hearn, Alexia Delfino and Alessandro Nuvolari
Age-Heaping, Numeracy, Human capital, Italy

  JEL Classifications
N33, J24

A growing literature employs age-heaping as an indicator of human capital, more specifically of numeracy. We re-examine this link in light of a range of evidence from nineteenth century Italy, which suggests that age-heapers were most likely ignorant of their age, not their numbers. Though it can stand in as an acceptable proxy for literacy, our findings indicate that age-heaping is most plausibly interpreted as an indicator of cultural and institutional modernisation rather than a measure of cognitive skills.
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