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Underperformance in affluence: the remarkable relative decline in American heights in the second half of the 20th-century

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Author Info

  • Komlos, John
  • Lauderdale, Benjamin E.

Abstract

Objective: We use the complete set of NHES and NHANES data collected between 1959 and 2004 in order to construct trends for the physical stature of the non-Hispanic white and black US adult population and compare them to those of Western- and Northern-Europeans. Method: Regression analysis is used to estimate the trend in US heights stratified by gender and ethnicity holding income and educational attainment constant. Results: US heights have stabilized at mid-century and a perio0d of stagnation set in with the birth cohorts 1955-74, concurrent with continual rapid increases in heights in Western and Northern Europe. The American population had been the tallest in the world for two centuries until World War II, but by the end of the 20th century fell behind many of their European counterparts. Only since the most recent birth cohorts 1975-83 is some gain apparent among whites but not among blacks. The relationship between height and income and between height and educational attainment has not changed appreciably over time for either men or women. Conclusion: We conjecture that the American health-care system, as well as the relatively weak welfare safety net might be the reason why human growth in the United States has not performed as well in relative terms as one would expect on the basis of income. The comparative pattern bears some similarly to that of life expectancy insofar as the US is also lagging behind in that respect.

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File URL: http://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/1241/1/underperformance.pdf
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Munich, Department of Economics in its series Discussion Papers in Economics with number 1241.

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Date of creation: Nov 2006
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Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:1241

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Related research

Keywords: biological standard of living; health; height; NHANES;

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References

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  1. John Komlos & Peter Kriwy, 2003. "The Biological Standard of Living in the Two Germanies," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 4, pages 459-473, November.
  2. Guido Heineck, 2005. "Up in the Skies? The Relationship between Body Height and Earnings in Germany ," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 19(3), pages 469-489, 09.
  3. Komlos, John & Baten, Jörg, 2003. "Looking Backward and Looking Forward: Anthropometric Research and the Development of Social Science History," Discussion Papers in Economics 59, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  4. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-95, June.
  5. Navarro, Vicente & Shi, Leiyu, 2001. "The political context of social inequalities and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 481-491, February.
  6. Komlos, John & Baur, Marieluise, 2003. "From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century," Discussion Papers in Economics 76, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  7. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2003. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," PIER Working Paper Archive 03-036, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  8. Peter Lindert, 2004. "Social Spending and Economic Growth," Challenge, M.E. Sharpe, Inc., vol. 47(4), pages 6-16, July.
  9. de Beer, Hans, 2004. "Observations on the history of Dutch physical stature from the late-Middle Ages to the present," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 45-55, March.
  10. Sunder, Marco, 2003. "The making of giants in a welfare state: the Norwegian experience in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 267-276, June.
  11. repec:cup:cbooks:9780521821759 is not listed on IDEAS
  12. Komlos, John & Smith, Patricia K. & Bogin, Barry, 2003. "Obesity and the Rate of Time Preference: Is there a Connection?," Discussion Papers in Economics 60, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  13. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
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Blog mentions

As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
  1. Short North Koreans . . . and Americans
    by Tara Parker-Pope in Well on 2008-09-29 07:12:00
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Cited by:
  1. Richard H. Steckel, 2008. "Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions," NBER Working Papers 14536, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. John Komlos & Ariane Breitfelder, 2007. "The height of US-born non-Hispanic children and adolescents ages 2-19, born 1942-2002 in the NHANES Samples," NBER Working Papers 13324, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. John Komlos, 2009. "Recent Trends in Height by Gender and Ethnicity in the US in Relation to Levels of Income," NBER Working Papers 14635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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