IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/nbr/nberwo/8542.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Health and Nutrition in the Preindustrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe

Author

Listed:
  • Richard H. Steckel

Abstract

This essay places the debate over human welfare during industrialization in the context of very long-term economic developments by examining an important aspect of living standards--health and nutrition--since the Middle Ages. I use average stature determined from military records along with a neglected source, skeletal data. Average heights fell from an average of 173.4 centimeters in the early Middle Ages to a low of 165.8 centimeters during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This decline of 7.6 centimeters exceeds by a factor of two any downturns found during industrialization in several countries that have been studied. Moreover, recovery to levels achieved in the early Middle Ages was not attained until the early twentieth century. The paper links the decline in average height to climate deterioration; growing inequality; urbanization and the expansion of trade and commerce, which facilitated the spread of diseases; the global spread of diseases associated with European expansion and colonization; and conflicts or wars over state building or religion. Because it is reasonable to believe that greater exposure to pathogens accompanied urbanization and industrialization, and there is evidence of climate moderation, increasing efficiency in agriculture and greater inter-regional and international trade in foodstuffs, it is plausible to link height gains that began in the eighteenth century with dietary improvements.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard H. Steckel, 2001. "Health and Nutrition in the Preindustrial Era: Insights from a Millennium of Average Heights in Northern Europe," NBER Working Papers 8542, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8542
    Note: DAE
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8542.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Razzell, Peter, 1993. "The Growth of Population in Eighteenth-Century England: A Critical Reappraisal," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(04), pages 743-771, December.
    2. Stanley L. Engerman, 1997. "The Standard of Living Debate in International Perspective: Measures and Indicators," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 17-46 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Lars Sandberg & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Was Industrialization Hazardous to Your Health? Not in Sweden!," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 127-160 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. John Komlos, 1989. "Nutrition and Economic Development in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg Monarchy: An Anthropometric History," Books by John Komlos, Department of Economics, University of Munich, number 2, September.
    5. 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.
    6. Kevin H. O'Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2001. "Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262650592, May.
    7. Richard H. Steckel, 1982. "Height and Per Capita Income," NBER Working Papers 0880, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Steckel, Richard H., 1998. "Strategic Ideas in the Rise of the New Anthropometric History and their Implications for Interdisciplinary Research," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 803-821, September.
    9. Hoffman, Philip T. & Jacks, David S. & Levin, Patricia A. & Lindert, Peter H., 2002. "Real Inequality In Europe Since 1500," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(02), pages 322-355, June.
    10. J. W. Drukker & Vincent Tassenaar, 1997. "Paradoxes of Modernization and Material Well-Being in the Netherlands during the Nineteenth Century," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 331-378 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Richard H. Steckel, 1999. "Industrialization and Health in Historical Perspective," NBER Historical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Richard H. Steckel & Roderick Floud, 1997. "Health and Welfare during Industrialization," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number stec97-1.
    13. repec:ucp:bknber:9780226771564 is not listed on IDEAS
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Cormac Ó Gráda, 2005. "You take the high road and I’ll take the low road : economic success and wellbeing in the longer run," Working Papers 200510, School of Economics, University College Dublin.
    2. Carl-Johan Dalgaard & Holger Strulik, 2006. "Subsistence – A Bio-economic Foundation of the Malthusian Equilibrium," Discussion Papers 06-17, University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
    3. Charles Kenny, 2009. "There's more to life than money: Exploring the levels|growth paradox in income and health," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 21(1), pages 24-41.
    4. 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.
    5. Grasgruber, P. & Cacek, J. & Kalina, T. & Sebera, M., 2014. "The role of nutrition and genetics as key determinants of the positive height trend," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 15(C), pages 81-100.
    6. Adolfo Meisel-Roca. & Margarita Vega A., 2006. "Los Origenes De La Antropometria Histórica Y Su Estado Actual," Cuadernos de Historia Económica 18, Banco de la Republica de Colombia.
    7. Marco Breschi & Matteo Manfredini & Stanislao Mazzoni, 2010. "Health and socio-demographic conditions as determinants of marriage and social mobility," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 22(33), pages 1037-1056, June.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8542. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/nberrus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.