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The Measure of Man and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Gould Sample


  • Dora L. Costa


This paper documents differences in body size between white, black, and Indian mid-nineteenth century American men and investigates the socioeconomic and demographic determinants of frame size using a unique data set of Civil War soldiers. It finds that over time men have grown taller and heavier and have relatively less abdominal fat. Abdominal fat in young adulthood was an excellent predictor of older age mortality from ischemic heart disease or stroke. Changes in frame size explain roughly three-fifths of the mortality decline among white men between 1915 and 1988 and predict even sharper declines in older age mortality between 1988 and 2022. Data accompanying this paper can be found at .

Suggested Citation

  • Dora L. Costa, 2002. "The Measure of Man and Older Age Mortality: Evidence from the Gould Sample," NBER Working Papers 8843, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8843
    Note: AG CH DAE LS

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters,in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Robert Fogel & Dora Costa, 1997. "A theory of technophysio evolution, with some implications for forecasting population, health care costs, and pension costs," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 34(1), pages 49-66, February.
    3. Dora Costa, 2000. "Understanding the twentieth-century decline in chronic conditions among older men," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 37(1), pages 53-72, February.
    4. Robert William Fogel, 1993. "New Sources and New Techniques for the Study of Secular Trends in Nutritional Status, Health, Mortality, and the Process of Aging," NBER Historical Working Papers 0026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Costa, Dora L., 2003. "Understanding mid-life and older age mortality declines: evidence from Union Army veterans," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 112(1), pages 175-192, January.
    6. Joseph M. Prince & Richard H. Steckel, 2001. "Tallest in the World: Native Americans of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 287-294, March.
    7. 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.
    8. Goldin, Claudia & Margo, Robert A., 1989. "The poor at birth: Birth weights and infant mortality at Philadelphia's almshouse hospital, 1848-1873," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 360-379, July.
    9. Michael R. Haines & Lee A. Craig & Thomas Weiss, 2000. "Development, Health, Nutrition, and Mortality: The Case of the 'Antebellum Puzzle' in the United States," NBER Historical Working Papers 0130, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Steckel, Richard H., 1986. "A Peculiar Population: The Nutrition, Health, and Mortality of American Slaves from Childhood to Maturity," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(03), pages 721-741, September.
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    JEL classification:

    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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