The main findings in this article can be summarized as follows. New data show that average male height in Europe increased by about 11 cm in the century from the 1870s—representing an unprecedented improvement in health status. In northern and middle European countries there was a distinct quickening in the pace of advance in the period spanning the two world wars and the Great Depression, which largely predates the modern medicine and national health services. In southern Europe height increased fastest in the postwar period. There is evidence of a concave health production function, but the effects of inequality are not robust. Education had a positive effect on height and family size a negative effect, consistent with the quality-quantity trade-off. The evidence suggests that improvements in the disease environment, as reflected in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height. This accounts for much of the acceleration during the transwar period. Social services and health systems made a modest contribution to the overall increase in height. One reason is that education and expenditure on social services seem to be substitutes. Transport infrastructure also contributed to health and height, especially in the prewar era. But a substantial part of the overall upwards trend in height is not explained—in the absence of infant mortality, about a half. There are other important factors that are not easily measured, including medical advances and practices, and especially better parental knowledge of the effects of nutrition and hygiene on children’s health.Oxf. Econ. Pap. (2013)
How have Europeans grown so tall?
Timothy J. Hatton
Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations. In this article I present and analyse a new data set for the average height of adult male birth cohorts, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1980, in 15 European countries. In little more than a century average height increased by 11 cm—representing a dramatic improvement in health. Interestingly, there was some acceleration in the period spanning the two world wars and the Great Depression. The evidence suggests that the most important proximate source of increasing height was the improving disease environment as reflected by the fall in infant mortality. Rising income and education and falling family size had more modest effects. Improvements in health care are hard to identify, and the effects of welfare state spending seem to have been small.