NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions

Richard H. Steckel

NBER Working Paper No. 14536
Issued in December 2008
NBER Program(s):   CH   DAE   HE   LS

Since 1995 approximately 325 publications on stature have appeared in the social sciences, which is more than a four-fold increase in the rate of production relative to the period 1977-1994. The expansion occurred in several areas, but especially within economics, indicating that heights are now widely accepted as a useful measure of human welfare. Much of this new work extends beyond the traditional bailiwick of anthropometric history, including biological welfare during economic and political crises; anthropometric influences on wages; the welfare of women relative to men in the contemporary world; the fetal origins hypothesis; and inequality in the developing world. The approach has also expanded within economic history to consider the consequences of empire for colonials; the health of populations lacking traditional measures of social performance; the consequences of smallpox; and very long-term trends in health. Much has also been learned about socioeconomic aspects of inequality, the welfare implications of industrialization, and socioeconomic determinants of stature. The last is a work in progress and one may doubt whether sufficient longitudinal evidence will become available for a complete understanding of the variety and strength of pathways that affect human physical growth.

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This paper was revised on December 5, 2011

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w14536

Published: 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. citation courtesy of

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