September 02, 2013

Why Europeans gained 11cm in height in a century

The paper's conclusion:
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)
doi: 10.1093/oep/gpt030

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.



Fiend of 9 worlds said...

Of course better health and smaller family have to be number one but I bet they will find some genes for height being heavily selected on as well.

Krefter said...

The average hieght of Males remains from south Scandnavia in Viking age was about 5'8. Remains of Germanic tribes in central and eastern Europe from 100-500ad the average highet was about 5'7.5. Overall people throughout Europe in ancinet times were averaging 5'6-5'8. Not any shorter than other people in the world. The Polynesians hieght has been exagreated they also have grown taller recentley. Recorded hieghts of Polynesian people and their remains before knowing Europeans was also 5'6-5'8.

So Europeans would still average about the tallest people in the world. It is not a suprise Scandinavians from Viking age it was no rare for them to get up to 5'9 or 5'10 and u also need to remember most remains are old men. And that the tallest conutiires in Europe today are north Germanic Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and swedan. I guess Yugoslavia too.

Since Europeans are Caucasian closest relatives in aust DNA. Live in the Caucus - Iran. north of southern Iraq and west of Pakistan. all Caucasians have pretty much the exact same phsical features except Europeans and Caucus and mid eastern ethnic groups have white skin. So i would except that ancient mid easterns and north africans were also around 5'6-5'8. I think that might be the average human height period. But since most of those remains are probably old men maybe they were taller 5'7-5'10.

Krefter said...

I kind of doubt that the average american man was like 3 inches shorter than today. My great great grandfather was 6'4 and born in 1860. his son 6'3 his sons two sons 6'4 and 6'2. his sons sons sons my dad 6'1.5 then me 6'0. My dad's cousin 6'5 his son 6'5 his grandson 6'5.

His brothers all over 6'0. Same story on my moms side going back to the 1800's all around 6'0. I was looking at the height of old wild west people when arrested the ones that were measured at 5'8 were nikenamed shorty or some other name about how short they were. almost all were 5'10-6'4. Maybe measurements were off that is why average union soldeir in civil was put at 5'8.5

But since the average afrcan american is same as white american 5'10-6'0 and that people in the area of africa they come from are 5'6-5'8 i guess over time people did grow happened to europeans too. Id ont know if it will ever happen with mexicans. maybe 5'3-5'8.

Vacilii said...

I strangely recall being mentioned, during boot camp when I was joined the military, several commonalities of people who died in WW2 and (to a lesser extent) the Korean War, one of which that a large number of them were short. This was in reference to American soldiers, but I would think that whatever thing that disproportionately got short men killed during WW2 would probably also apply to European soldiers. Fewer "shorties" should translate into a quick increase in height among the following generation of the general population.

Not to mention (and this is wholly a point that I'm coming up with) the Nazi Germans had a fairly cold-hearted outlook on what was a "proper" German, genetically (that whole tall blond thing), and had their own breading and sterilization programs to try to implement their ideas. Not to say, only the Germans during this period had breading programs (several European countries had implemented breading and eugenics programs, even the US, some of those countries did not end those eugenics programs until... what, I think the 1970s(?)).

Fiend of 9 worlds said...

Audy murphy the most decorated soldier, was short. I think the union soldiers were shorter on average because they were largely irish fleeing the potato famine and they brought the height down. WW II infantry conscripts would be largely poor and many were recent immigrants.

Definitely like barak says most people can trace back and see their family was much taller. There was much better nutrition in US than europe at the time, and during WW II.