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Height and the normal distribution: Evidence from Italian military data

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Abstract

Height data offer insights into the well-being of populations and historical periods for which other indicators are lacking. Researchers modeling historical heights have typically relied on the restrictive assumption of a normal (Gaussian) distribution, only the mean of which is affected by age, income, nutrition, disease, and similar influences. We develop a different approach, in which covariates – age in particular – are allowed to affect the entire distribution without imposing any parametric shape. We apply this method to a new database of height distributions for Italian provinces drawn from conscription records. The data are of unprecedented length and geographic disaggregation, but suffer from a variety of statistical problems: variation in the age at measurement in particular. Our method allows us to standardize distributions to a single age and calculate moments of the distribution that are comparable through time. The distribution of heights at age 20 is not normal over most of our sample. Our method also allows us to generate counterfactual distributions for a range of ages, from which we derive age-height profiles. These reveal how the adolescent growth spurt (AGS) distorts the distribution of stature, and document the earlier and earlier onset of the AGS as living conditions improved over the second half of the nineteenth century. Our new estimates of provincial mean height also reveal a previously unnoticed “regime switch” from regional convergence to divergence in this period. In the light of this evidence, previous assumptions about regional economic development during Italian industrialization will need to be reexamined.

Suggested Citation

  • Brian A'Hearn & Franco Peracchi & Giovanni Vecchi, 2008. "Height and the normal distribution: Evidence from Italian military data," CEIS Research Paper 124, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 14 Jul 2008.
  • Handle: RePEc:rtv:ceisrp:124
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    Cited by:

    1. Duclos, Jean-Yves & Leblanc, Josée & Sahn, David E., 2011. "Comparing population distributions from bin-aggregated sample data: An application to historical height data from France," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(4), pages 419-437.
    2. Bertocchi, Graziella & Bozzano, Monica, 2016. "Women, medieval commerce, and the education gender gap," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(3), pages 496-521.
    3. repec:bdi:workqs:qse_08 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Graziella Bertocchi & Monica Bozzano, 2015. "Family Structure and the Education Gender Gap: Evidence from Italian Provinces," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 61(1), pages 263-300.
    5. Bertocchi, Graziella & Bozzano, Monica, 2016. "Origins and implications of family structure across Italian provinces in historical perspective," CEPR Discussion Papers 11617, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Andrea Brandolini & Giovanni Vecchi, 2011. "The Well-Being of Italians: A Comparative Historical Approach," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 19, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    7. Matteo Gomellini & Cormac O' Grada, 2011. "Outward and Inward Migrations in Italy: A Historical Perspective," Quaderni di storia economica (Economic History Working Papers) 08, Bank of Italy, Economic Research and International Relations Area.
    8. repec:mod:depeco:0007 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Elisabetta De Cao, 2010. "The Height Production Function from Birth to Early Adulthood," CEIS Research Paper 165, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 28 May 2010.
    10. Emilia Arcaleni & Franco Peracchi, "undated". "Early-life environment, eight and BMI of young adult males in Italy," Working Papers 4, Department of the Treasury, Ministry of the Economy and of Finance.
    11. Lindgren, Mattias, 2015. "The elusive quest for the subsistence line How much does the cost of survival vary between populations?," MPRA Paper 73891, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. 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.
    13. Peracchi, Franco & Arcaleni, Emilia, 2011. "Early-life environment, height and BMI of young men in Italy," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 9(3), pages 251-264, July.
    14. Graziella Bertocchi & Monica Bozzano, 2016. "Origins and implications of family structure across Italian provinces in historical perspective," Department of Economics 0095, University of Modena and Reggio E., Faculty of Economics "Marco Biagi".
    15. Costa-Font, Joan & Kossarova, Lucia, 2014. "Anthropometric dividends of Czechoslovakia’s break up," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 60719, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    16. repec:eee:ehbiol:v:26:y:2017:i:c:p:61-69 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Emanuele Felice & Josep Pujol Andreu & Carlo D'Ippoliti, 2016. "GDP and life expectancy in Italy and Spain over the long run: A time-series approach," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 35(28), pages 813-866, September.
    18. Riggs, Paul & Cuff, Timothy, 2013. "Ladies from Hell, Aberdeen Free Gardeners, and the Russian influenza: An anthropometric analysis of WWI-era Scottish soldiers and civilians," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(1), pages 69-77.
    19. Howard Bodenhorn & Timothy W. Guinnane & Thomas A. Mroz, 2013. "Problems of Sample-selection Bias in the Historical Heights Literature: A Theoretical and Econometric Analysis," Working Papers 1023, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
    20. Agar Brugiavini & Franco Peracchi, 2012. "Health Status, Welfare Programs Participation, and Labor Force Activity in Italy," NBER Chapters,in: Social Security Programs and Retirement around the World: Historical Trends in Mortality and Health, Employment, and Disability Insurance Participatio, pages 175-215 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    21. Manfredini, Matteo & Breschi, Marco & Fornasin, Alessio & Seghieri, Chiara, 2013. "Height, socioeconomic status and marriage in Italy around 1900," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 11(4), pages 465-473.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Human height; normal distribution; semi-parametric modelling; Italy;

    JEL classification:

    • C14 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods and Methodology: General - - - Semiparametric and Nonparametric Methods: General
    • J11 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Demographic Trends, Macroeconomic Effects, and Forecasts
    • N33 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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