Biological Welfare and Inequality During the Mining Boom: Rio Tinto, 1832-1935


  • Miguel Ángel Pérez de Perceval Verde Universidad de Murcia
  • José Miguel Martínez Carrión Universidad de Murcia
  • Ángel Pascual Martínez Soto Universidad de Murcia



Biological welfare, mining, standard of living, Rio Tinto Company, height


This study explores the impact of the mining boom on the biological standards of living and inequality in Rio Tinto, the main copper basin in Spain. It uses the heights of military recruits in the towns of Zalamea la Real and Nerva between 1852 and 1935 (birth cohorts of 1832-1914). The majority of the mining population of Nerva, which had become independent from Zalamea la Real in 1885, was concentrated close to Minas de Riotinto, following the extraordinary influx of immigrants, mostly attracted by the British company RTCL after establishing its operations there in 1873. The anthropometric results reveal that: 1) the height of males decreased slightly among the cohorts of the decades 1850-1870, whose childhood and adolescence coincided with the beginning of the mining boom; 2) the inequality (measured by CVs, percentiles and ratios of short-stature subjects) increased among the cohorts of the 1870s, made up of immigrants, principally in Nerva. During this period, the gap between the height of the native population and the immigrants also increased, as did the gap between the literate and illiterate populations. Finally, 3) the improvement in the biological welfare of the cohorts corresponding to 1880-1890 was undermined in the subsequent decades due to the impact of the mining crisis. In the lead-up to the Great War, the height of the miners in Nerva was no different to that of the rural population of Zalamea in the mid-nineteenth century.