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Social inequality and the biological standard of living: An anthropometric analysis of Swiss conscription data, 1875–1950

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  • Schoch, Tobias
  • Staub, Kaspar
  • Pfister, Christian

Abstract

We analyze the first representative series of individual measurements of the height of Swiss conscripts for the years 1875–1950. We find that average height followed a general upward time trend, but the economic downturn in the 1880s slowed down the increase in rural average-heights while the economic crisis subsequent to World War I had only a minor effect. Moreover, social-class affiliation was the most important determinant of differences in the biological standard of living, with class and regional disparities remaining constant, for the most part, during the observation period. Lower-class individuals’ ability to overcome economic stress was limited, with the result that their biological standard of living, as reflected in the cyclicality of deviations from average height, was likely to be affected by cycles in economic activity.

Suggested Citation

  • Schoch, Tobias & Staub, Kaspar & Pfister, Christian, 2012. "Social inequality and the biological standard of living: An anthropometric analysis of Swiss conscription data, 1875–1950," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 154-173.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:10:y:2012:i:2:p:154-173
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2011.05.001
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    Cited by:

    1. Ayuda, María-Isabel & Puche-Gil, Javier, 2014. "Determinants of height and biological inequality in Mediterranean Spain, 1859–1967," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 101-119.
    2. Martínez-Carrión, José Miguel & Cañabate-Cabezuelos, José, 2016. "Poverty and rural height penalty in inland Spain during the nutrition transition," MPRA Paper 74356, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised 01 Sep 2016.
    3. Liczbińska, Grażyna & Czapla, Zbigniew & Nowak, Oskar & Piontek, Janusz, 2016. "Body mass index values of conscripts in the Polish lands under Prussian rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 21(C), pages 75-83.
    4. Ramon Ramon-Muñoz & Josep-Maria Ramon-Muñoz, 2015. "Height and Industrialisation in a City in Catalonia during the Nineteenth Century," UB Economics Working Papers 2015/334, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat d'Economia i Empresa, UB Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Anthropometric history; Biological standard of living; Social inequality; Height cycles; Physical stature; Spectral analysis; Chest and arm circumference; Switzerland;

    JEL classification:

    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N34 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: 1913-
    • E32 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - Business Fluctuations; Cycles
    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General

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