Adult stature is a mirror of a society’s standard of living

Adult stature is a mirror of a society’s standard of living
Secular trend in size and life expectancy in Spain in the last 150 years © José Miguel Martínez Carrión

Adult stature is a mirror of a society’s standard of living

Adult stature as a synthetic indicator of human wellbeing has been used by economic historians since the Industrial Revolution to analyse standard of living. As can be seen from these figures, the average height of Spanish conscripts (aged 20) increased by almost 14 cm over the past 150 years, reaching the highest increases in the second half of the 20th century. Spanish males registered the highest rate of increase in stature of all Europeans during that period: it has been shown that the cohorts born between 1945 and 1975-80 grew 2.6cm as a ten-year average.

The increase in stature of cohorts born since the end of the 19th century was nevertheless affected by the effects of the Civil of 1936-39 and the terrible years of Franco’s autarchy. The failure of nutrition is shown by the fall in stature of conscripts between 193and y 1950, and is attributable to the “hunger years”, when deprivation retarded growth. The deterioration in net nutrition among those born between 1915 and 1930, reflects the extent of relative poverty suffered by children during their years of development, which affected the adolescent population during the 1940s, the most nefarious decade in contemporary Spanish history.

Sources: Stature, in Martínez Carrión JM (2016). Living standards, nutrition and inequality in the Spanish industrialization. An anthropometric view “. Magazine of industrial history, 64: 11-50. Of Life expectancy, in Felice F, Pujol J and Díppoliti C. 2016. GPD and life expectancy in Italy and Spain over the long run. A time series approach. Demographic Research 35: 813-866