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Inferring the economic standard of living and health from cohort height: Evidence from modern populations in developing countries

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  • Akachi, Yoko
  • Canning, David

Abstract

Average adult height is a physical measure of the biological standard of living of a population. While the biological and economic standards of living of a population are very different concepts, they are linked and may empirically move together. If this is so, then cohort heights can also be used to make inferences about the economic standard of living and health of a population when other data are not available. We investigate how informative this approach is in terms of inferring income, nutrition, and mortality using data on heights from developing countries over the last 50 years for female cohorts born 1951–1992. We find no evidence that the absolute differences in adult height across countries are associated with different economic living standards. Within countries, however, faster increases in adult cohort height over time are associated with more rapid growth of GDP per capita, life expectancy, and nutritional intake. Using our instrumental variable approach, each centimeter gain in height is associated with a 6% increase in income per capita, a reduction in infant mortality of 7 per thousand (or an 1.25 year increase in life expectancy), and an increase in nutrition of 64 calories and 2 grams of protein per person per day relative to the global trend. We find that increases in cohort height can predict increases in income even for countries not used in the estimation of the relationship. This suggests our approach has predictive power out of sample for countries where we lack income and health data.

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  • Akachi, Yoko & Canning, David, 2015. "Inferring the economic standard of living and health from cohort height: Evidence from modern populations in developing countries," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 114-128.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:19:y:2015:i:c:p:114-128
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2015.08.005
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    1. Mark E. McGovern & Aditi Krishna & Victor M. Aguayo & S.V. Subramanian, 2017. "A Review of the Evidence Linking Child Stunting to Economic Outcomes," CHaRMS Working Papers 17-03, Centre for HeAlth Research at the Management School (CHaRMS).
    2. de Beer, Hans, 2016. "The biological standard of living in Suriname, c. 1870–1975," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 22(C), pages 140-154.
    3. Baten, Joerg, 2017. "Economics, human biology and inequality: A review of “puzzles” and recent contributions from a Deatonian perspective," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 25(C), pages 3-8.
    4. Liczbińska, Grażyna & Czapla, Zbigniew & Piontek, Janusz & Malina, Robert M., 2018. "Age at menarche in Polish University students born before, during and after World War II: Economic effects," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 28(C), pages 23-28.
    5. Bokang Mpeta & Johan Fourie & Kris Inwood, 2017. "Black living standards in South Africa before democracy: New evidence from heights," Working Papers 670, Economic Research Southern Africa.
    6. Mark E. McGovern, 2016. "Progress and the Lack of Progress in Addressing Infant Health and Infant Health Inequalities in Ireland during the 20th Century," Economics Working Papers 16-05, Queen's Management School, Queen's University Belfast.
    7. Carolin Schmidt, 2018. "Home is where the health is: Housing and adult height from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries," ERES eres2018_33, European Real Estate Society (ERES).
    8. Marein, Brian, 2020. "Economic development in Puerto Rico after US annexation: Anthropometric evidence," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 38(C).
    9. Panczak, Radoslaw & Moser, André & Held, Leonhard & Jones, Philip A. & Rühli, Frank J. & Staub, Kaspar, 2017. "A tall order: Small area mapping and modelling of adult height among Swiss male conscripts," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 26(C), pages 61-69.
    10. Lopuszanska-Dawid, M. & Kołodziej, H. & Lipowicz, A. & Szklarska, A. & Kopiczko, A. & Bielicki, T., 2020. "Social class-specific secular trends in height among 19-year old Polish men: 6th national surveys from 1965 till 2010," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 37(C).
    11. Abu Dalou, Ahmad Yosuf, 2016. "Height of Northern Jordanian middle-class adults, born 1960–1990 in the response to improving socio-economic conditions," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 22(C), pages 155-160.

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