The Heights of Europeans Since 1750: a New Source for European Economic History
37 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2004 Last revised: 9 Aug 2021
Date Written: March 1984
Economic and social historians have traditionally been concerned to measure changes in the income and welfare of populations in the past.Until recently, however, they have not recognized that anthropometric data, such as evidence on the average height achieved by a population at a particular age, provide sensitive indicators of the average nutritional status of that population. Records of conscription into the armies of eleven European countries betweeen 1761 and 1975 provide 114 observations of mean height. Using 614 observations, the paper explores the relationship between mean height and other indicators of health and welfare, in particular the level of GDP per capita and the level of infant mortality. Western European heights are shown to have responded systematically over the past hundred years to changes in income and disease, just as heights in the modern world respond to similar changes today. Average height is powerful evidence of the nature and extent of economic development.
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