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A Tropical Sucess Story: A Century of Improvements in the Biological Standard of Living, Colombia 1910-2002

Listed author(s):
  • Adolfo Meisel


  • Margarita Vega


Since the late 1970's there has a been a growing interest among economic historians in the study of the behavior of height over time, as an alternative method for measuring the standard of living. Adult height reflects the net nutritional status of a person during the years of physical growth, which is influenced by food intake, health, and work effort. Thus is provides a measure of the biological standard of living, one of the dimensions of the overall standard of living. This paper studies the behavior in the height of Colombian women and men born since 1910 to 1984. For Colombians born in 1984 the adult height was recorded in 2002, when they received their citizenschip card. Thus, the height data discussed in this paper reflect the behavior from 1910 to 2002 of the determinants of height. The information that is used comes from the citizenship card (cédula de ciudadanía). with 8.454.348 observations, this is one of the largest databases, relative to the population of the country, found in the literature of anthropometric history to date. In economic terms Colombia was a success story during the twentieth century. The rate of growt of per capita GDP from 1905 to 2000 was 2.3% one of the highest in Latin America. This economic success was reflected in several dimensions of the standard of living, one of which is the height of its population. Colombian men born in 1984 were 7.9 cm.taller than those born in 1910,while in the case of women the increase was of 8.8 cm.,an enormous improvement in physical well being which was achieved in only three generations. This paper is divided in three main sections. First,the characteristics of the database are discussed. Then the national evolution of height for Colombians born in the period 1910-1984 is presented. Next, the behavior in the average height of the departments, the main sub-national territorial units, is compared and a convergence analysis is performed for the period as a whole. Finally, some conclusions are draw in the last section.

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Paper provided by Banco de la Republica de Colombia in its series Borradores de Economia with number 289.

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Date of creation: May 2004
Handle: RePEc:bdr:borrec:289
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