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The Stature of the Colombian Elite Before the Onset of Industrialization, 1870-1919

  • Adolfo Meisel

    ()

  • Margarita Vega

    ()

The average height of Colombian women increased 8.95 cm between 1905 and 1985 and of men 8.96 cm in the same time period. Thus the country was a success story according to international standards in this respect. The information for the adult height of Colombians born between 1905 and 1985 was obtained from a database with more than 9 million observations constructed with the national ID cards. This implies that the results are indicative of what happened to the overall population. For the pre-industrial era in Colombia, which is before the 20th century, information on height is only available from 1870. The source in this case is the records of the passports issued to Colombian citizens, for which we have obtained about 17.000 observations. The analysis of those records for the period 1870-1919 reveals some striking results. In the first place, the long run behavior of height was stable, unlike what is observed with the national ID card records, beginning in 1905, in which case heights were increasing. The group included in the passport records is much taller than those from the ID card. For the period 1905-1909 the average passport height for men was 168.7 cm compared with 162 cm for national ID cards. In the case of women the former had an average height of 158 cm and the later 150 cm. Another characteristic found in the passport sample is that there were almost no regional differences, unlike what is observed in the case of the national ID cards. The reason why the behavior of the height of Colombians obtained in the passports differs from the one recorded in the national ID cards is that in the 19th century and early 20th century Colombians who traveled abroad, mainly to Europe and the US, belonged to the elite. Thus, they seemed to have good levels of nutrition and living conditions which made them relatively tall even by the standards of European countries at that time. However, although tall by the standards of the 19th century these Colombians had an average height which was below Colombians born in 1985. While the average height for men in this group in 1900 was 168.2 cms, Colombians born in 1985 grew to an average height of 170.6 cm. Thus, the health conditions under which the elite found itself was holding their height down. Only until the late 1920’s, when the earliest the international advances in modern medical technology would have been felt, could many of the health impediments for advances in height would have begun to be eliminated.

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Paper provided by Banco de la Republica de Colombia in its series Borradores de Economia with number 339.

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Handle: RePEc:bdr:borrec:339
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  1. John Komlos, 1995. "The Biological Standard of Living on Three Continents: Further Essays in Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 10, Jul-Oct.
  2. 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.
  3. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Stature and the Standard of Living," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 33(4), pages 1903-1940, December.
  4. Komlos, John, 2005. "On English Pygmies and Giants: the Physical Stature of English Youth in the late-18th and early-19th Centuries," Discussion Papers in Economics 573, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  5. José Miguel Martínez Carrión, 2001. "Estatura, salud y bienestar en las primeras etapas del crecimiento económico español. Una perspectiva comparada de los niveles de vida," Documentos de Trabajo (DT-AEHE) 0102, Asociación Española de Historia Económica.
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