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Height and the normal distribution: evidence from italian military data

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  • Brian A’hearn
  • Franco Peracchi

    ()

  • Giovanni Vecchi

Abstract

Height data offer insights into the well-being of populations and historical periods for which other indicators are lacking. Researchers modeling historical heights have typically relied on the restrictive assumption of a normal (Gaussian) distribution, only the mean of which is affected by age, income, nutrition, disease, and similar influences. We develop a different approach, in which covariates – age in particular – are allowed to affect the entire distribution without imposing any parametric shape. We apply this method to a new database of height distributions for Italian provinces drawn from conscription records. The data are of unprecedented length and geographic disaggregation, but suffer from a variety of statistical problems: variation in the age at measurement in particular. Our method allows us to standardize distributions to a single age and calculate moments of the distribution that are comparable through time. The distribution of heights at age 20 is not normal over most of our sample. Our method also allows us to generate counterfactual distributions for a range of ages, from which we derive age-height profiles. These reveal how the adolescent growth spurt (AGS) distorts the distribution of stature, and document the earlier and earlier onset of the AGS as living conditions improved over the second half of the nineteenth century. Our new estimates of provincial mean height also reveal a previously unnoticed “regime switch” from regional convergence to divergence in this period. In the light of this evidence, previous assumptions about regional economic development during Italian industrialization will need to be reexamined.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

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File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1353/dem.0.0049
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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Demography.

Volume (Year): 46 (2009)
Issue (Month): 1 (February)
Pages: 1-25

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Handle: RePEc:spr:demogr:v:46:y:2009:i:1:p:1-25

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Web page: http://www.springer.com/economics/journal/13524

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References

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  1. Anne Case & Christina Paxson, 2006. "Stature and status: Height, ability, and labor market outcomes," Working Papers 232, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  2. Vittorio Daniele & Paolo Malanima, 2007. "Il prodotto delle regioni e il divario Nord-Sud in Italia (1861-2004)," Rivista di Politica Economica, SIPI Spa, vol. 97(2), pages 267-316, March-Apr.
  3. Federico, Giovanni, 2003. "Heights, calories and welfare: a new perspective on Italian industrialization, 1854-1913," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 289-308, December.
  4. George J. Borjas, 1988. "Self-Selection and the Earnings of Immigrants," NBER Working Papers 2248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. Vecchi, Giovanni & Coppola, Michela, 2006. "Nutrition and growth in Italy, 1861-1911: What macroeconomic data hide," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 43(3), pages 438-464, July.
  6. Robert W. Fogel, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," NBER Working Papers 4638, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Angus Deaton, 2008. "Height, health, and inequality: the distribution of adult heights in India," Working Papers 1009, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Research Program in Development Studies..
  8. Hatton, Timothy J. & Williamson, Jeffrey G., 1998. "The Age of Mass Migration: Causes and Economic Impact," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195116519.
  9. Danubio, Maria Enrica & Amicone, Elisa & Vargiu, Rita, 2005. "Height and BMI of Italian immigrants to the USA, 1908-1970," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 3(1), pages 33-43, March.
  10. Arcaleni, Emilia, 2006. "Secular trend and regional differences in the stature of Italians, 1854-1980," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 4(1), pages 24-38, January.
  11. Yoko Akachi & David Canning, 2007. "The Height of Women in Sub-Saharan Africa: the Role of Health, Nutrition, and Income in Childhood," PGDA Working Papers 2207, Program on the Global Demography of Aging.
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Cited by:
  1. Emilia Arcaleni & Franco Peracchi, . "Early-life environment, eight and BMI of young adult males in Italy," Working Papers 4, Department of the Treasury, Ministry of the Economy and of Finance.
  2. Bertocchi, Graziella & Bozzano, Monica, 2013. "Women, Medieval Commerce, and the Education Gender Gap," CEPR Discussion Papers 9359, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Elisabetta De Cao, 2010. "The Height Production Function from Birth to Early Adulthood," CEIS Research Paper 165, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 28 May 2010.
  4. repec:mod:depeco:0007 is not listed on IDEAS
  5. Manfredini, Matteo & Breschi, Marco & Fornasin, Alessio & Seghieri, Chiara, 2013. "Height, socioeconomic status and marriage in Italy around 1900," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 465-473.
  6. Matteo Gomellini & Cormac O' Grada, 2011. "Outward and Inward Migrations in Italy: A Historical Perspective," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 08, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  7. Richard H. Steckel, 2008. "Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions," NBER Working Papers 14536, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Riggs, Paul & Cuff, Timothy, 2013. "Ladies from Hell, Aberdeen Free Gardeners, and the Russian influenza: An anthropometric analysis of WWI-era Scottish soldiers and civilians," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 69-77.
  9. Howard Bodenhorn & Timothy W. Guinnane & Thomas A. Mroz, 2013. "Problems of Sample-selection Bias in the Historical Heights Literature: A Theoretical and Econometric Analysis," Working Papers 1023, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  10. Elisabetta De Cao, 2011. "The height production function from birth to early adulthood," Working Papers 043, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
  11. Peracchi, Franco & Arcaleni, Emilia, 2011. "Early-life environment, height and BMI of young men in Italy," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 251-264, July.
  12. Andrea Brandolini & Giovanni Vecchi, 2011. "The Well-Being of Italians: A Comparative Historical Approach," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 19, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
  13. Graziella Bertocchi & Monica Bozzano, 2013. "Family Structure and the Education Gender Gap: Evidence from Italian Provinces," CESifo Working Paper Series 4460, CESifo Group Munich.
  14. Agar Brugiavini & Franco Peracchi, 2012. "Health Status, Welfare Programs Participation, and Labor Force Activity in Italy," NBER Chapters, in: Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World: Historical Trends in Mortality and Health, Employment, and Disability Insurance Participatio, pages 175-215 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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