NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Stature and Living Standards in the United States

Richard H. Steckel

NBER Historical Working Paper No. 24
Issued in April 1991
NBER Program(s):   DAE

This paper briefly reviews the literature on the evolution of approaches to living standards and then applies the methodology discussed for stature to the United States from the late 18th through the early 20th centuries. Part I of the paper emphasizes two major strands of the subject: national-income accounting and related measures, developed by economists and government policy makers, and anthropometric measures (particularly stature), developed by human biologists, anthropologists, and the medical profession. I compare and contrast these alternative approaches to measuring living standards and place anthropometric measures within the context of the ongoing debate over the system of national accounts. Part II examines the relationship of stature to living standards beginning with a discussion of sources of evidence and the growth process. A statistical analysis explores the relationship of stature to per capita income and the distribution of income using 20th century data. Part III presents evidence on time-trends, regional patterns, and class differences in height. The major phenomena discovered to date are the early achievement of near-modern stature, the downward cycle in stature for cohorts born around 1830 to near the end of the century, the height advantages of the West and the South, and the remarkably small stature of slave children. The secular decline in height is puzzling for economic historians because it clashes with firm beliefs that the mid-nineteenth century was an era of economic prosperity. I establish a framework for reconciling these conflicting views on the course of living standards and discuss possible explanations for the height patterns noted in the paper.

download in pdf format
   (640 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (640 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/h0024

Published:

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Steckel Stature and Living Standards in the United States
Steckel and Krishnan w4137 Wealth Mobility in America: A View from the National Longitudinal Survey
Prince and Steckel h0112 The Tallest in the World: Native Americans of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century
Fogel, Engerman, Floud, Steckel, and Trussell w0890 Changes in American and British Stature Since the Mid-Eighteenth Century: A Prelimanary Report on the Usefulness of Data on Height...
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us