Proposal preview

The most dramatic period globally for the development of the human body: the 20th century

In this session, the development of the human body worldwide during the 20th century will be studied. The 20th century has not received as many anthropometric studies as earlier centuries, even though change in heights and weights were more dramatic than in any other period. Moreover, a large number of important developments affected the human body including, among others, fertility transition, improved knowledge of disease and public wealth, waves of globalization and deglobalization, and the devastation wrought by terrible wars. Civil wars during the later 20th century, for example, had profound effects on the evolution of human stature development in Africa. Another influence was the “Great Levelling” or reduction in inequality within some countries during the early 20th century followed by strongly resurgent inequality at the end of the century. Delays in the diffusion of medical and hygienic technologies, by themselves, created inequalities in health across populations in different parts of the world.
The studies in this session take advantage of the relatively good data available for many countries in the 20th century. All contributors check carefully for selectivity issues socially, institutionally and regionally. New evidence is presented for large number of countries and regions including, for example, the various parts of the British Empire, are studied, various African countries and the southern corn of the Latin America. The Asian giants are analyzed with a deep regional focus on Indonesia, India and China. All this integrates into an image of global welfare development that complements purchasing power-based approaches, and helps to understand the divergence processes that took place in some of the world regions.

* the individuals below identified with an asterisk plan to be present for the discussions in Boston.

Subsection 1: New evidence and case studies

“Neonatal conditions and Maternal transfer of health in early 20th century Barcelona”, Gregori Galofré-Vilà* (University of Bocconi/Italy and University of Oxford/UK) and Bernard Harris* (University of Strathclyde/UK).

“THE ROOTS OF REGIONAL WELFARE: FROM URBANIZATION AND SCHOOLING TO PORTUGUESE HEIGHT GROWTH, 1924-1950”, Adam Brzezinski (University of Oxford/UK), Nuno Palma* (University of Manchester/UK)

“Heights in Brazil 1880s-1930s”, Daniel W Franken* (University of California at LA, USA)

“The big growth spurt in Extremadura: economic takeoff and physical development in the Southwest of Spain during the 20th century”, Antonio M. Linares-Luján (Univ. Extremadura/Spain) and Francisco M. Parejo-Moruno* (Univ. Extremadura/Spain)

“Height in twentieth century Chilean men: growth with divergence”, Manuel Llorca-Jaña* (Universidad de Santiago de Chile/Chile), Juan Navarrete-Montalvo* (Universidad de Santiago de Chile/Chile), Roberto Araya, and Federico Droller

The long arm of colonialism: the decline and rise of Māori stature 1775-1975”, Kris Inwood* (Univ of Guelph/Canada), Les Oxley* (University of Waikato/New Zealand) and Evan Roberts* (University of Minnesota)

“The height of apartheid: white living standards in South Africa before democracy”, Kris Inwood* ((Univ of Guelph/Canada), Johan Fourie* (Stellenbosch Univ.) and Martine Mariotti* (Australian National Univ./Australia)

“Socioeconomic determinants of height in South Korea””, Daniel Jong Schwekendiek* (Sungkyunkwan University/Korea)

“Ethnicity, Region and Nutritional Disparities in China, 1985-2014” Stephen Morgan* (U Nottingham/Ningbo, UK and China)

Subsection 2: Broad patterns

“Height inequality and life expectancy in Africa and Asia from 1820 to 2000”, Lisa Martin* (Oxford Univ./Tübingen Univ., UK/Germany)

“The assessment of the association between living conditions and trends in generational sexual size dimorphism: the case of 20th-century Europe”, Antonio D. Cámara* (University of Jaen/Spain) and José Miguel Martínez-Carrión (University of Murcia/Spain)

“Height and Enamel Hypoplasia: Measuring gender equality in the 20th century” Laura Maravall* (Univ. Tuebingen/Germany) and Joerg Baten* (Univ. Tuebingen/Germany, CESifo/Germany and CEPR/UK)

Organizer(s)

  • Kris Inwood University of Guelph kinwood@uoguelph.ca Canada
  • Joerg Baten Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de Germany

Session members

  • Johan Fourie, Stellenbosch University
  • Les Oxley, University of Waikato
  • Evan Roberts, University of Minnesota
  • Daniel Schwekendiek, Sungkyunkwang University
  • Gregori Galofré-Vilà, University of Bocconi/Italy and University of Oxford/UK
  • Bernard Harris, Strathclyde University
  • Nuno Palma, Manchester University
  • Antonio Linares-Luján , Universidad Extremadura
  • Daniel Franken, UCLA
  • Manuel Llorca-Jaña, Universidad de Santiago de Chile
  • Juan Navarrete-Montalvo, Universidad de Santiago de Chile
  • Roberto Araya, Universidad de Santiago de Chile
  • Federico Droller, Universidad de Santiago de Chile
  • Stephen Morgan, U Nottingham/Ningbo
  • Lisa Martin, Oxford University and Tübingen Universität
  • Laura Maravall, Tübingen Universität
  • Antonio Cámara, Universidad Jaen
  • José Miguel Martínez-Carrión , Universidad Murcia
  • Adam Brzezinski, Oxford University and Tübingen Universität
  • Francisco Parejo-Moruno, Universidad Extramadura
  • Martine Mariotti, Australian National University
  • Richard H. Steckel, Ohio State University

Discussant(s)

  • Bernard Harris University of Strathclyde bernard.harris@strath.ac.uk
  • Kris Inwood University of Guelph kinwood@uoguelph.ca
  • Joerg Baten Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de

Papers

Panel abstract

In this session, the development of the human body worldwide during the 20th century will be studied. During the 20th century, height and weight changes were more dramatic than in any other period. Moreover, a large number of important developments affected the human body including, among others, fertility transition, improved knowledge of disease and public wealth, waves of globalization and deglobalization, and the devastation wrought by terrible wars. Civil wars during the later 20th century, for example, had profound effects on the evolution of human stature development in Africa. Another influence was the “Great Levelling” or reduction in inequality within some countries during the early 20th century followed by strongly resurgent inequality at the end of the century. Delays in the diffusion of medical and hygienic technologies, by themselves, created inequalities in health across populations in different parts of the world.

1st half

The big growth spurt in Extremadura: Economic takeoff and physical development in the Southwest of Spain during the 20th century

Francisco Manuel Parejo Moruno; Antonio Miguel Linares Luján

This research uses the tools of anthropometric history to analyze the evolution of living standard on Extremadura, one of the least developed region in Europe. The reason of our research is twofold. On the one hand, the international literature has demonstrated convincingly the enormous explanatory power of anthropometric measures to know the dynamics of well-being in those areas and times for which there is no statistical information on product per capita. On the other hand, the Extremadura's historiography has recently revealed that, for the adult height, the 20th century turned out to be one of the most critical periods, but also most decisive, of the regional history. In fact, the last years of the 19th century marked the end of a long cycle of anthropometric stagnation and the beginning of a process of sustained physical growth that was only nuanced by the indirect effects of the First World War.

This research uses the tools of anthropometric history to analyze the evolution of living standard on Extremadura, one of the least developed region in Europe. The reason of our research is twofold. On the one hand, the international literature has demonstrated convincingly the enormous explanatory power of anthropometric measures to know the dynamics of well-being in those areas and times for which there is no statistical information on product per capita. On the other hand, the Extremadura's historiography has recently revealed that, for the adult height, the 20th century turned out to be one of the most critical periods, but also most decisive, of the regional history. In fact, the last years of the 19th century marked the end of a long cycle of anthropometric stagnation and the beginning of a process of sustained physical growth that was only nuanced by the indirect effects of the First World War.

The Roots of Regional Welfare: From Urbanization and Schooling to Portuguese Height Growth, 1924-1950

Adam Brzezinski, Nuno Palma

How does urbanization affect regional development? Do agglomeration economies dominate other forces? In this paper we consider the proximate factors of Portuguese height growth during 1924-1950. We use a new database of 5,669 individuals, sampled from the population of males of age 20. Our conclusions are as follows. First, average and median height increased approximately 2cm over this period. Second, increases were observed across the whole distribution. Third, there is considerable heterogeneity in the change in stature across regions, but proximity to Lisbon is the strongest predictor of height growth. Fourth, increases in school density are strong predictors of increases in height. The latter result is not being driven by proximity to Lisbon since school density did not increase more there. Our conclusion is that while urbanization was the dominant force in explaining height growth, there was a counteractive positive role played by school-building in regions away from the capital.

How does urbanization affect regional development? Do agglomeration economies dominate other forces? In this paper we consider the proximate factors of Portuguese height growth during 1924-1950. We use a new database of 5,669 individuals, sampled from the population of males of age 20. Our conclusions are as follows. First, average and median height increased approximately 2cm over this period. Second, increases were observed across the whole distribution. Third, there is considerable heterogeneity in the change in stature across regions, but proximity to Lisbon is the strongest predictor of height growth. Fourth, increases in school density are strong predictors of increases in height. The latter result is not being driven by proximity to Lisbon since school density did not increase more there. Our conclusion is that while urbanization was the dominant force in explaining height growth, there was a counteractive positive role played by school-building in regions away from the capital.

The long arm of colonialism: origins of ethnic-based health inequality in New Zealand

Kris Inwood, Les Oxley, Evan Roberts

We examine physical well-being among the Māori from the 1700s to the mid-twentieth century. After colonization Māori stature declined slowly. Late nineteenth century Māori and Pākehā (European settlers) stood equally tall, but Māori stature lagged between 1900 and World War II. Stature increased after the 1920s for Pākehā and after 1950s for Māori. After a prolonged convergence the difference between the two groups that emerged at the end of the 19th century is now largely (although not entirely) gone. Fertility decline, improvements in socio-economic status, and health policy may explain the convergence of stature and infant mortality. We hypothesize that the early twentieth century divergence reflects cumulative land loss, disease incidence, rural-urban migration and labour market segregation.

We examine physical well-being among the Māori from the 1700s to the mid-twentieth century. After colonization Māori stature declined slowly. Late nineteenth century Māori and Pākehā (European settlers) stood equally tall, but Māori stature lagged between 1900 and World War II. Stature increased after the 1920s for Pākehā and after 1950s for Māori. After a prolonged convergence the difference between the two groups that emerged at the end of the 19th century is now largely (although not entirely) gone. Fertility decline, improvements in socio-economic status, and health policy may explain the convergence of stature and infant mortality. We hypothesize that the early twentieth century divergence reflects cumulative land loss, disease incidence, rural-urban migration and labour market segregation.

Neonatal conditions and Maternal transfer of health in early 20th century Barcelona

Gregori Galofré-Vilà, Bernard Harris

This paper explores the connection between maternal and neonatal wellbeing using data on 4,331 deliveries in early-twentieth century Barcelona. Although some authors have argued birthweights have remained relatively stable over the last hundred years (Tanner 1981; Schneider 2017), there has been a substantial fall in neonatal mortality. We aim to explore this conundrum by focusing on placental weights. Our initial analyses suggest that placental weights were influenced by changes in the economy and the disease environment before 1920, and that the size of the placenta has declined over the course of the last century. We hypothesise that this indicates an improvement in maternal wellbeing. We also suggest that in the past larger placentas were needed to achieve similar birthweights. We use a Cox proportional hazards model to explore the relationship between foetal development and neonatal mortality.

This paper explores the connection between maternal and neonatal wellbeing using data on 4,331 deliveries in early-twentieth century Barcelona. Although some authors have argued birthweights have remained relatively stable over the last hundred years (Tanner 1981; Schneider 2017), there has been a substantial fall in neonatal mortality. We aim to explore this conundrum by focusing on placental weights. Our initial analyses suggest that placental weights were influenced by changes in the economy and the disease environment before 1920, and that the size of the placenta has declined over the course of the last century. We hypothesise that this indicates an improvement in maternal wellbeing. We also suggest that in the past larger placentas were needed to achieve similar birthweights. We use a Cox proportional hazards model to explore the relationship between foetal development and neonatal mortality.

Multivariate determinants of height in South Korea

Daniel J. Schwekendiek

Numerous studies suggest a positive association between economic development and physical growth of humans. While South Korea has commonly been credited as the world's fastest growing economy after WWII, little multivariate research has been conducted on the development of the height of its people. Indeed, previous studies focused on descriptive analysis to explore broad trends in height. Drawing on several waves of the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES), final height of South Koreans is regressed on socio-economic and bio-demographic variables contained in the datasets.

Numerous studies suggest a positive association between economic development and physical growth of humans. While South Korea has commonly been credited as the world's fastest growing economy after WWII, little multivariate research has been conducted on the development of the height of its people. Indeed, previous studies focused on descriptive analysis to explore broad trends in height. Drawing on several waves of the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KNHANES), final height of South Koreans is regressed on socio-economic and bio-demographic variables contained in the datasets.

Ethnicity, Region and Nutritional Disparities in China, 1985-2014

Stephen L. Morgan

China comprises Han Chinese and non-Han “minorities” who mostly live in poor regions. The nutritional status of the Han children has increased dramatically, but have the ethnic minority populations similarly shared in the benefits of China’s economic growth? I hypothesize any difference between the nutritional status of minorities and the Han is a function of geography rather than discrimination, their status lower because they live in areas poorer than the Han. Height, weight and body mass data from national surveys of school children between 1985 and 2014 are used to compare whether the change in the relative status (z-scores) for ethnic minorities diverges from the change in the status of Han children. The results are mixed. Some minority children have had a larger positive change in their nutritional status than Han in the same region; in other areas there is a widening gap. Reasons for the differences are explored.

China comprises Han Chinese and non-Han “minorities” who mostly live in poor regions. The nutritional status of the Han children has increased dramatically, but have the ethnic minority populations similarly shared in the benefits of China’s economic growth? I hypothesize any difference between the nutritional status of minorities and the Han is a function of geography rather than discrimination, their status lower because they live in areas poorer than the Han. Height, weight and body mass data from national surveys of school children between 1985 and 2014 are used to compare whether the change in the relative status (z-scores) for ethnic minorities diverges from the change in the status of Han children. The results are mixed. Some minority children have had a larger positive change in their nutritional status than Han in the same region; in other areas there is a widening gap. Reasons for the differences are explored.

The height of apartheid: white living standards in South Africa before democracy

Johan Fourie, Kris Inwood, Martine Mariotti

We construct an anthropometric measure of living standards for white South Africans over more than 120 years using seven different sources and taking account of differing selection biases (notably in military attestation forms). While white South Africans had superior living standards throughout the twentieth century, we show, using recently published material on black living standards, that white and black living standards followed roughly the same trajectory. Apartheid-era legislation maintained the high level of inequality, rather than creating or accelerating differences. Like other populations of transplanted Europeans, white South Africans the late twentieth century lose their previous superiority in stature relative to those who remained in Europe.

We construct an anthropometric measure of living standards for white South Africans over more than 120 years using seven different sources and taking account of differing selection biases (notably in military attestation forms). While white South Africans had superior living standards throughout the twentieth century, we show, using recently published material on black living standards, that white and black living standards followed roughly the same trajectory. Apartheid-era legislation maintained the high level of inequality, rather than creating or accelerating differences. Like other populations of transplanted Europeans, white South Africans the late twentieth century lose their previous superiority in stature relative to those who remained in Europe.

Height in twentieth century Chilean men: growth with divergence

Manuel Llorca-Jaña, Juan Navarrete-Montalvo, Roberto Araya, Federico Droller

The average height of a population has been recently taken as a good indicator of biological welfare, and therefore of standards of living and economic development. This article provides the first available series for adults in twentieth century Chile, providing the evolution of the average height of Chilean soldiers (male) born from the 1900s to the 1990s, using a sample of 4.500 individuals. This sample can be safely taken as a good proxy of the average height of Chilean male population for the period under study. Having analysed our data, our main conclusion is that in the twentieth century there was an important increase in the average male height, in particular from the 1960s, but in the developed world and other middle-income countries height increased faster than in Chile. We also provide an explanation behind the rapid increase of height in Chile from the 1960s.

The average height of a population has been recently taken as a good indicator of biological welfare, and therefore of standards of living and economic development. This article provides the first available series for adults in twentieth century Chile, providing the evolution of the average height of Chilean soldiers (male) born from the 1900s to the 1990s, using a sample of 4.500 individuals. This sample can be safely taken as a good proxy of the average height of Chilean male population for the period under study. Having analysed our data, our main conclusion is that in the twentieth century there was an important increase in the average male height, in particular from the 1960s, but in the developed world and other middle-income countries height increased faster than in Chile. We also provide an explanation behind the rapid increase of height in Chile from the 1960s.

Heights in Brazil 1880s-1930s

Daniel W Franken

The extent to which economic growth improved population health in early-twentieth-century Brazil remains unclear due to a lack of evidence. This paper fills this void in scholarship by relying on hitherto untapped archival sources with anthropometric data--a large (n≈16,000), geographically-comprehensive series compiled from military records, supplemented by an ancillary dataset drawn from passport records (n≈6,000). I estimate secular trends in height for the 1850-1950 period and place these trends in historiographical context. My findings from the military sample reveal a 2.5-centimeter stature increase in the early-twentieth century, and I follow the methods of Bodenhorn et al (2017) to reveal no evidence of sample-selection bias. I document inferior heights in the North and Northeast of Brazil that predated the advent of industrialization (and persist in the present). I argue that increased real income and early public-health interventions explain the upward height trend in the Southern regions.

The extent to which economic growth improved population health in early-twentieth-century Brazil remains unclear due to a lack of evidence. This paper fills this void in scholarship by relying on hitherto untapped archival sources with anthropometric data--a large (n≈16,000), geographically-comprehensive series compiled from military records, supplemented by an ancillary dataset drawn from passport records (n≈6,000). I estimate secular trends in height for the 1850-1950 period and place these trends in historiographical context. My findings from the military sample reveal a 2.5-centimeter stature increase in the early-twentieth century, and I follow the methods of Bodenhorn et al (2017) to reveal no evidence of sample-selection bias. I document inferior heights in the North and Northeast of Brazil that predated the advent of industrialization (and persist in the present). I argue that increased real income and early public-health interventions explain the upward height trend in the Southern regions.

2nd half

The assessment of the association between living conditions and trends in generational sexual size dimorphism: the case of 20th-century Europe

Antonio D. Cámara, José Miguel Martínez-Carrión

Evidence on sexual stature dimorphism prior to the 20th century is sparse and little concluding about its determinants. By contrast male and female height data from cohorts born over the 20th century are abundant and representative whether these data are self-reported or measured. This work aims to assess the association between living conditions and trends in generational sexual dimorphism of 20th-century Europeans by using three data sources of measured heights: health examination surveys collected by the OECD, the NCD-RisC database and height data from the World Health Organization, the latter aiming at establishing a standard of sexual dimorphism in stature from well-nourished societies. The results display that there is a secular trend in sexual dimorphism in 20th-century Europe largely coinciding with the secular increase in mean height across successive cohorts of Europeans. In our view, improving living conditions are a solid explanatory factor for such secular trend.

Evidence on sexual stature dimorphism prior to the 20th century is sparse and little concluding about its determinants. By contrast male and female height data from cohorts born over the 20th century are abundant and representative whether these data are self-reported or measured. This work aims to assess the association between living conditions and trends in generational sexual dimorphism of 20th-century Europeans by using three data sources of measured heights: health examination surveys collected by the OECD, the NCD-RisC database and height data from the World Health Organization, the latter aiming at establishing a standard of sexual dimorphism in stature from well-nourished societies. The results display that there is a secular trend in sexual dimorphism in 20th-century Europe largely coinciding with the secular increase in mean height across successive cohorts of Europeans. In our view, improving living conditions are a solid explanatory factor for such secular trend.

Height inequality and life expectancy in Africa and Asia from 1820 to 2000

Lisa Martin

The association between income inequality and various health outcomes, such as life expectancy, has been investigated and assessed by as many as 300 published studies (Pickett and Wilkinson 2015). Despite this extensive body of research, the effect of inequality on health remains controversial. Previous research has almost entirely been focused on developed countries, largely owing to the lack of data in developing countries. The aim of this study is to assess the association between income inequality and life expectancy in Africa and Asia throughout the period from 1820 to 2000. Anthropometrics, namely human stature and the coefficient of variation thereof, are used to extend the data base by approximating values for life expectancy and inequality. Both graphical and regression analyses yield mostly supportive evidence of a statistically significant, negative correlation between life expectancy and inequality over time and across countries.

The association between income inequality and various health outcomes, such as life expectancy, has been investigated and assessed by as many as 300 published studies (Pickett and Wilkinson 2015). Despite this extensive body of research, the effect of inequality on health remains controversial. Previous research has almost entirely been focused on developed countries, largely owing to the lack of data in developing countries. The aim of this study is to assess the association between income inequality and life expectancy in Africa and Asia throughout the period from 1820 to 2000. Anthropometrics, namely human stature and the coefficient of variation thereof, are used to extend the data base by approximating values for life expectancy and inequality. Both graphical and regression analyses yield mostly supportive evidence of a statistically significant, negative correlation between life expectancy and inequality over time and across countries.

Persistence effects of gender inequality until the 20th century

Laura Maravall, Joerg Baten

Scandinavian countries have today the highest values of female autonomy. Even if some of the usual proxy variables might not indicate perfect equality, in no other region can such a high economic and political equality be observed. Has this always been the case? In this study, we trace the roots of female autonomy over the past two millennia. Archaeological evidence provides enamel hypoplasia values, which allow to trace the relative health. If girls receive less food and healthcare, their relative value is higher. We find that Scandinavian women had higher values already during the medieval period. Moreover, we analyse a large sample of countries for persistence effects until the 20th century. The underlying reason of these patterns is mostly based on agricultural specialization in cattle farming, which provides a stronger role for women generating parts of the family income. This persists even in societies in which agriculture is less important.

Scandinavian countries have today the highest values of female autonomy. Even if some of the usual proxy variables might not indicate perfect equality, in no other region can such a high economic and political equality be observed. Has this always been the case? In this study, we trace the roots of female autonomy over the past two millennia. Archaeological evidence provides enamel hypoplasia values, which allow to trace the relative health. If girls receive less food and healthcare, their relative value is higher. We find that Scandinavian women had higher values already during the medieval period. Moreover, we analyse a large sample of countries for persistence effects until the 20th century. The underlying reason of these patterns is mostly based on agricultural specialization in cattle farming, which provides a stronger role for women generating parts of the family income. This persists even in societies in which agriculture is less important.

Sexual dimorphism in stature as a measure of gender inequality

Richard H. Steckel

Human biologists have known for some time that girls are more resistant to deprivation than are boys. Explanations are diverse, ranging from effectiveness of immune systems to more complete organ development at birth and relatively greater fat stores. Therefore the ratio of male to female height should vary according to socioeconomic conditions, being larger in good times relative to poor ones. This paper analyzes stature in the appendix of Eveleth and Tanner, Worldwide Variation in Human Growth to establish a baseline for the ratio, linking it to per capita GDP and extending it to the study to historical populations for insights into the deprivation of females relative to males.

Human biologists have known for some time that girls are more resistant to deprivation than are boys. Explanations are diverse, ranging from effectiveness of immune systems to more complete organ development at birth and relatively greater fat stores. Therefore the ratio of male to female height should vary according to socioeconomic conditions, being larger in good times relative to poor ones. This paper analyzes stature in the appendix of Eveleth and Tanner, Worldwide Variation in Human Growth to establish a baseline for the ratio, linking it to per capita GDP and extending it to the study to historical populations for insights into the deprivation of females relative to males.