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Can breast feeding help you in later life? Evidence from German military heights in the early 20th century


  • Haines, Michael R.
  • Kintner, Hallie J.


Considerable literature exists on the benefits of breast feeding on the health and survival of infants and young children, but there is less on the effects on later life outcomes. One such measure of health and well-being that has received attention in the historical literature is terminal adult stature. Information on height is rather widely available; however, it is much more difficult to obtain data on breast feeding. One country that does have such information is Imperial Germany (1871-1919). A number of physicians and local health officials collected information on the incidence and duration of breast feeding early in the 20th century, particularly because of concern about the unusually high infant mortality rates in parts of Germany. Hallie Kintner has surveyed the published results of these studies. The information on the prevalence of breast feeding for the period 1903/10 has been inputed into a database of demographic and economic variables for the counties (Regierungsbezirke) of Germany (1850-1939). There are also published data on heights of military recruits from the Imperial German military forces in 1906. These can be linked to areas in the database and related to breast feeding practices and infant mortality both contemporaneously and approximately 20 years previous to 1906. Results indicate a significant effect of infant feeding practices on later life outcomes operating through infant health conditions, proxied by the infant mortality rate.

Suggested Citation

  • Haines, Michael R. & Kintner, Hallie J., 2008. "Can breast feeding help you in later life? Evidence from German military heights in the early 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 420-430, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:6:y:2008:i:3:p:420-430

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. L. F. Giblin., 1940. "Economic Progress," The Economic Record, The Economic Society of Australia, vol. 16(2), pages 262-270, December.
    2. Robert William Fogel, 1993. "New Sources and New Techniques for the Study of Secular Trends in Nutritional Status, Health, Mortality, and the Process of Aging," NBER Historical Working Papers 0026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 1997. "Nutritional Status and Agricultural Surpluses in the Antebellum United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0099, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Michael R. Haines & Richard H. Steckel, 2000. "Childhood Mortality & Nutritional Status as Indicators of Standard of Living: Evidence from World War I Recruits in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0121, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Robert W. Fogel, 1986. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," NBER Chapters,in: Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, pages 439-556 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Richard H. Steckel, 1982. "Height and Per Capita Income," NBER Working Papers 0880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
    8. Chulhee Lee, 2003. "Prior Exposure to Disease and Later Health and Mortality. Evidence from Civil War Medical Records," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Labor Force Participation over the Life Cycle: Evidence from the Past, pages 51-88 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Robert W. Fogel, 1986. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality Since 1700: Some Additional Preliminary Findings," NBER Working Papers 1802, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:27:y:2017:i:pa:p:126-136 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Huang, Rui & Yang, Muzhe, 2015. "Paid maternity leave and breastfeeding practice before and after California's implementation of the nation's first paid family leave program," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 16(C), pages 45-59.
    3. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
    4. Khanam, Rasheda & Nghiem, Son & Connelly, Luke, 2016. "The effects of parental leave on child health and postnatal care: Evidence from Australia," Economic Analysis and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 49(C), pages 17-29.
    5. Clive R. Belfield & Inas Rashad Kelly, 2012. "The Benefits of Breast Feeding across the Early Years of Childhood," Journal of Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, vol. 6(3), pages 251-277.


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