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Rich and slim, but relatively short Explaining the halt in the secular trend in Japan


  • Bassino, Jean-Pascal
  • Kato, Noriko


An almost complete halt in the secular trend in stature at a relatively low level is observed in Japan since the late 1980s with average height of around 171 cm for males and 158 cm for females at age 18. Unidentified characteristics in the Japanese genetic pool or in the nutritional intake do not provide a convincing explanation. Japan is unique among OECD countries in combining contrasted health outcomes: a stagnation of height suggests a decline in biological well-being, but this picture is not consistent with high life expectancy and extremely low prevalence of infant mortality, overweight/obesity, and other pathologies. Individual data that could allow investigating the influence of socio-economic and other environmental conditions are unavailable. As a second best, we take advantage of the regional variance in average height and other indicators across the 47 Japanese prefectures and use data covering the period 1950-2005. A positive and significant influence of income and housing conditions on height is identified but the effect is fading. Caloric restraint of pregnant women, and the decrease in sleeping time observed since the 1980s appear as possible explanatory variables of the halt in the secular trend and a symptom of a decline in well-being. Public health policy implications are considered.

Suggested Citation

  • Bassino, Jean-Pascal & Kato, Noriko, 2010. "Rich and slim, but relatively short Explaining the halt in the secular trend in Japan," CEI Working Paper Series 2010-5, Center for Economic Institutions, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:hit:hitcei:2010-5

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Komlos, John & Baur, Marieluise, 2004. "From the tallest to (one of) the fattest: the enigmatic fate of the American population in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 57-74, March.
    2. Reuben Gronau & Daniel S. Hamermesh, 2006. "Time Vs. Goods: The Value Of Measuring Household Production Technologies," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 52(1), pages 1-16, March.
    3. Yamada, Tadashi & Yamada, Tetsuji & Kang, J. Moonwon, 1999. "A study of time allocation of Japanese households," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 41-55, January.
    4. Haines, Michael R. & Craig, Lee A. & Weiss, Thomas, 2003. "The Short and the Dead: Nutrition, Mortality, and the in the United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(02), pages 382-413, June.
    5. Burkhauser, Richard V. & Cawley, John, 2008. "Beyond BMI: The value of more accurate measures of fatness and obesity in social science research," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 519-529, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Schneider, Eric B. & Ogasawara, Kota, 2017. "Disease and child growth in industrialising Japan: assessing instantaneous changes in growth and changes in the growth pattern, 1911-39," Economic History Working Papers 84066, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.

    More about this item


    height; income; housing; sleep; sexual dimorphism; Japan;

    JEL classification:

    • I10 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - General
    • R0 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General
    • Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Language; Social and Economic Stratification

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