Data typically show that people become progressively taller as living standards improve. But despite impressive recent rates of economic growth, India remains one of the worst-performing countries in terms of height. Using data from Indian and English health surveys, this column reveals that, conditional on parents’ height, children of Indian ethnicity are on average taller when born and raised in England rather than in India. The results provide evidence against the importance of genetic factors in explaining the disappointing growth performance of Indian children.
Caterina Alacevich, Alessandro Tarozzi, 23 April 2017
Timothy Hatton, 03 April 2017
There is growing concern about the long-term health effects of atmospheric pollution. Conditions were much worse a century ago in Western countries, when coal-fired industrialisation reached its zenith, than they are now in countries where pollution presents the greatest challenges today. This column highlights the effect of polluted air on adult heights using a sample of British army soldiers in WWI. Pollution accounts for a difference of almost an inch between the average adult heights in least and most polluted localities.
Howard Bodenhorn, Timothy Guinnane, Thomas Mroz, 22 July 2015
Were living standards during early industrialisation as terrible as we imagine? Robert Fogel, the Nobel prize-winning economic historian, taught us a great deal about studying long-term living standards through looking into people’s height. This column argues that one of Fogel’s early claims turns out to have, at best, a weak foundation. The measured decline of mean height during industrialisation reflects in large part the nature of the data sources, not necessarily changes in the height of the underlying populations. The Industrial Revolution did not necessarily make people shorter.
Timothy Hatton, 09 May 2014
The height of today’s populations cannot explain which factors matter for long-run trends in health and height. This column highlights the correlates of height in the past using a sample of British army soldiers from World War I. While the socioeconomic status of the household mattered, the local disease environment mattered even more. Better education and modest medical advances led to an improvement in average health, despite the war and depression.
Janet Currie, Tom Vogl, 15 November 2012
The global decline in ill health has not been met with greater prosperity. What are we to make of healthier and larger populations undercutting per capita economic progress? This column argues that early-life health changes do, in fact, have a huge effect on economic outcomes over the lifecycle. However, the jury is out on how we can best manage – and measure – the apparent play off between better health, higher populations, and poorer per capita economic outcomes.
Timothy Hatton, 05 August 2011
The last century has seen dramatic improvements in the health of Europeans. Young adult males are about 11 centimetres taller than their counterparts were a century ago. This column examines and explains the remarkable long-run trends in the average height of Europeans.