How have Europeans Grown so Tall?
Increases in human stature are seen as a key indicator of improvement in the average health of populations. The literature associates stature with a variety of socioeconomic variables, and much of the focus is on the nineteenth century and on the last 50 years. In this paper I present and analyse a new dataset for the average height of adult male cohorts, from the mid-nineteenth century to 1980, in fifteen European countries. In little more than a century average height increased by 11cm--representing a dramatic improvement in health. Interestingly, there was a distinct acceleration in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression. I examine the influence of socioeconomic variables on height through the two key channels: nutrition and the disease environment. The evidence suggests that the most important single cause of increasing height was the improving disease environment as reflected by the fall in infant mortality. Rising income and education and falling family size had more modest effects. Improvements in health care are hard to identify and the effects of the welfare state spending seem to have been small.
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