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Underperformance in affluence: the remarkable relative decline in American heights in the second half of the 20th-century

Author

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  • Komlos, John
  • Lauderdale, Benjamin E.

Abstract

Objective: We use the complete set of NHES and NHANES data collected between 1959 and 2004 in order to construct trends for the physical stature of the non-Hispanic white and black US adult population and compare them to those of Western- and Northern-Europeans. Method: Regression analysis is used to estimate the trend in US heights stratified by gender and ethnicity holding income and educational attainment constant. Results: US heights have stabilized at mid-century and a perio0d of stagnation set in with the birth cohorts 1955-74, concurrent with continual rapid increases in heights in Western and Northern Europe. The American population had been the tallest in the world for two centuries until World War II, but by the end of the 20th century fell behind many of their European counterparts. Only since the most recent birth cohorts 1975-83 is some gain apparent among whites but not among blacks. The relationship between height and income and between height and educational attainment has not changed appreciably over time for either men or women. Conclusion: We conjecture that the American health-care system, as well as the relatively weak welfare safety net might be the reason why human growth in the United States has not performed as well in relative terms as one would expect on the basis of income. The comparative pattern bears some similarly to that of life expectancy insofar as the US is also lagging behind in that respect.

Suggested Citation

  • Komlos, John & Lauderdale, Benjamin E., 2006. "Underperformance in affluence: the remarkable relative decline in American heights in the second half of the 20th-century," Discussion Papers in Economics 1241, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:lmu:muenec:1241
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    File URL: https://epub.ub.uni-muenchen.de/1241/1/underperformance.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    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. Guido Heineck, 2005. "Up in the Skies? The Relationship between Body Height and Earnings in Germany," LABOUR, CEIS, vol. 19(3), pages 469-489, September.
    3. Komlos, John & Smith, Patricia K. & Bogin, Barry, 2003. "Obesity and the Rate of Time Preference: Is there a Connection?," Discussion Papers in Economics 60, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    4. Sunder, Marco, 2003. "The making of giants in a welfare state: the Norwegian experience in the 20th century," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(2), pages 267-276, June.
    5. John Komlos & Peter Kriwy, 2003. "The Biological Standard of Living in the Two Germanies," German Economic Review, Verein für Socialpolitik, vol. 4, pages 459-473, November.
    6. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-395, June.
    7. Komlos, John & Baten, Jörg, 2003. "Looking Backward and Looking Forward: Anthropometric Research and the Development of Social Science History," Discussion Papers in Economics 59, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
    8. Lindert,Peter H., 2009. "Growing Public," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521529174, May.
    9. Nicola Persico & Andrew Postlewaite & Dan Silverman, 2004. "The Effect of Adolescent Experience on Labor Market Outcomes: The Case of Height," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(5), pages 1019-1053, October.
    10. Peter Lindert, 2004. "Social Spending and Economic Growth," Challenge, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(4), pages 6-16.
    11. Costa Dora L., 1993. "Height, Weight, Wartime Stress, and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Union Army Records," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 30(4), pages 424-449, October.
    12. Navarro, Vicente & Shi, Leiyu, 2001. "The political context of social inequalities and health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 52(3), pages 481-491, February.
    13. de Beer, Hans, 2004. "Observations on the history of Dutch physical stature from the late-Middle Ages to the present," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(1), pages 45-55, March.
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    1. Short North Koreans . . . and Americans
      by Tara Parker-Pope in Well on 2008-09-29 12:12:00

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    Cited by:

    1. John Komlos & Ariane Breitfelder, 2007. "The height of US-born non-Hispanic children and adolescents ages 2-19, born 1942-2002 in the NHANES Samples," NBER Working Papers 13324, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. John Komlos, 2009. "Recent Trends in Height by Gender and Ethnicity in the US in Relation to Levels of Income," NBER Working Papers 14635, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    biological standard of living; health; height; NHANES;

    JEL classification:

    • N32 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-

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