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EH.R: FORUM: Anthropometric History
================= EH.RES POSTING ================= EDITOR'S NOTE: I am pleased to introduce John Komlos (Univerity of Munich) as a "guest speaker." Professor Komlos offers his thoughts on the usefulness and importance of anthropometrics. This is the first of several forums devoted to a discussion of important issues in economic history. During the next two weeks, Professor Komlos will remain "on line" to answer your questions and comments. We welcome your responses to Professor Komlos's essay. Jonathan Bean, co-editor, EH.Res ************************************************************************ John Komlos, University of Munich: Anthropometric History is now 20 years old. It is perhaps time to take account of what has been accomplished. Hence, I welcome the interest of the editors of this disuccsion group to promote an exchange of opinions and ideas on the topic. Historical Introduction Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie, Richard Steckel, James Tanner, and Robert Fogel were the early promoters of the notion of examining physical stature in a historical perspective will be rewarding. Rick was the one who really gambled his career on it, inasmuch as he did not have tenure at the time. His article in the Dec. issue of the Journal of Economic Literature signifies both that the field has come of age, and that his investment has paid off. The fact that the International Economic History Association will devote on of its main (A) sessions to anthropometric history at its next meeting in 1998 in Seville is a similar validation of the field's acceptance by the community. I first herd of the connection between economics and human biology from Robert Fogel in 1982, and was immediately impressed, for the problem had several characteristics that were attractive to my taste in research. A New Direction There are obvious downside risks associated with working in an area that does not quite fit into an established niche of the field. In addition to scepticism on the part of the profession, initially many mistakes are possible, because a proper methodology has to be worked out. Anthropometric history was no exception in these regards. At the same time, it enabled us to view many issues in new light, and enriched our view of the past. Methodology There are plenty of statistical issues with ehight research, because in many cases a minimum height requirement was imposed. So the height samples are often biased. Theoretical issues We initially thought that physical stature can be used as a proxy for the standard of living as conventionally defined. That turned out not to be the case. We found that in longitudinal samples heights and income correlate positively in the 20th century, but not before. That, in itself was of considerable interest. I've christened this problem the 'early industrial growth puzzle', or the 'antebellum puzzle' in the American context. We've found that a number of other economic variables played a role in determining the height of a population: relative price of nutrients, market structure, and the variability of income. Rick Steckel showed in 1983 that the distribution of income also mattered, and Joerg Baten is writing a dissertation in which he wxplores the weather-height link more than it has been done so far. - Disease environment and work effort also hav an impact on height, however, we do not yet have an index of teh quality of the epidemiological environment or of epidemcis. Thus, there are difficulties testing the hypothesis of the disease-height connection. For references see my 1994 anthology. What has been accomplished? Some of the more interesting results are as follows: Slaves were almost as tall as freemen (Steckel, 1979) but slave children were short (Steckel 1986). American slaves were taller than Africans in Africa. Americans were taller than Europeans already in the 18th century (Sokoloff and Villaflor, 1982). The propinquity to nutrients was advantageous (Komlos, 1985) and therefore people living in underdeveloped regions were often taller than those living in industrialized areas. This was true for Ireland v.s. Engand (Mokyr and O'Grada 1994) as well as for the American south v.s. North. (Steckel and Margo, 1983) In cross-sectional samples heights correlate positively with social status without exception (ceteris paribus). Even if height sampes on women are scarce, some evidence has been found (Nicholas and Oxley 1993) This is enabling us to look at the distribution of resources within the family. Physical stature declined with the onset of the industrial Revolution and/or modern economic growth. This was the case in the US of the 1830s (Margo and Steckel, 1983, Steckel and Haurin, 1982, Komlos 1987) as well as in Europe of the late 18th century (Komlos 1985, Steckel and Sandberg 1987, Floud et al 1990, Komlos 1993). It was also true at the time of the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution (Coatsworth, Am Hist Rev, 1995). Hence, large scale economic transformation have an impact on physical stature, even if income was rising. For instance, in the antebellum US, per capita income was growing at a rate of 1.4 percent per annum, yet heights declined. The human body seems to be elastic enough to adjust to its socio-economic environment. The led me to define a new concept, the Biological Standard of Living as distinct from the conventional one. It is important to make this distinction in my view, because it allows us to make clear that during the early stages of modern economic growth progress was not uniform in all dimensions of human existence. The controversy over the standard of living has remained an unresolved conundrum, primarily because both sides insisted that historical development be compressed into one dimension. That is a restricted view. In some regards the common man and woman of the antebellum US or those of England of the late 18th c. were better off than their parents, and in some regards, they were not. I find this a useful way of looking at the developmental process, insofar as the two dimensions were orthogonal to one another. One emphasizes the psychological component of life (the amount of utility that can be obtained from income), and the othe looks at the human organism itself, and how well it is doing. The first uses measures of inputs into utility (income) the second uses biological outcomes such as height, health, longevity). It is possible that the income of antebellum Americans was increasing, but their nutritional status was decreasing, and consequently, as Dora Costa has shown in their old age they suffered more from rheumatism and hernias than their earlier counterparts. In short, the human organism did not thrive as well in its newly created socio-economic environment as one might be led to believe on the basis of purchasing power alone. One last note impact of anthropometric history. It also enabled me to model the Industrial Revolution in new ways (Komlos 1989 Ch. 5) Conclusion Anthropometric history gives us a more nuanced view of the well being of historical populations living through the rapid structural changes of the beginning of modern economic growth. It has also led to several fruitful research agendas. When one starts on a new direction, it is not possible to predict where the path will lead. ============ FOOTER TO EH.RES POSTING ============ For information, send the message "info EH.RES" to email@example.com. >