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anthropometry

anthropometry Body measurements used as an index of physiological development and nutritional status; a non‐invasive way of assessing body composition. Weight for age provides information about the overall nutritional status of children; weight for height is used to detect acute malnutrition (wasting); height for age to detect chronic malnutrition (stunting). Mid‐upper arm circumference provides an index of muscle wastage in undernutrition. Skinfold thickness is related to the amount of subcutaneous fat as an index of over‐ or under‐nutrition. See also body mass index; cristal height; stunting; Wetzel grid.

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anthropometry

anthropometry (ănthrəpŏm´ətrē), technique of measuring the human body in terms of dimensions, proportions, and ratios such as those provided by the cephalic index. Once the standard approach to racial classification and comparing humans to other primates, the technique is now used for deciding the range of clothing sizes to be manufactured and determining the nutritional status of people.

See A. Montagu, A Handbook of Anthropometry (1960); R. McCammon, Human Growth and Development (1970).

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anthropometry

an·thro·pom·e·try / ˌan[unvoicedth]rəˈpämitrē/ • n. the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body. DERIVATIVES: an·thro·po·met·ric / -pōˈmetrik/ adj.

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anthropometry

anthropometry According to James Tanner, formerly Professor of Child Health at the University of London, ‘anthropometry was born not of medicine or science, but of the arts, impregnated by the spirit of Pythagorean philosophy. Painters and sculptors needed instruction about the relative proportions of legs and trunk, shoulders and hips, eyes and forehead, so that they could more easily go about what we might nowadays consider the mundane occupation of making life-like images’. The earliest recorded attempt in the West to study the development of the human form for medical or scientific purposes appears to have been made by the German physician, Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623–88), as part of an enquiry into the relationship between body proportions and the incidence of disease. During the nineteenth century, the term ‘anthropometry’ was promoted and popularized by such writers as Adolphe Quetelet (1796–1874), Charles Roberts (d. 1901), and Paul Topinard (1830–1911). Topinard defined the study of anthropometry as the systematic measurement of the different parts of the human body in order to determine their respective proportions not only at different ages, but also ‘in the human races, so as to distinguish them and establish their relations to each other’ (quoted in Spencer 1997, p. 80).

As this brief history indicates, the origins of the science of anthropometry can be traced in a number of different ways. One of the earliest spurs to development in the modern era was the study of human growth, as indicated by the famous series of measurements conducted on his son by Count Philibert Guéneau de Montbeillard (1720–1785), and published by Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707–88) in the fourth Supplement to his Natural History (1777). The development of anthropometry was also influenced by the development of physical anthropology and the search for evidence of ‘racial’ variations. During the second half of the nineteenth century, several researchers, including the Austrian physician, Karl Scherzer (1821–1903), conducted investigations into the physical measurements of supposedly ‘primitive’ peoples, and the British anthropologist, John Beddoe (1826–1911), assembled information on the height, weight, and other characteristics of the different ‘races’ of the British Isles. The development of anthropometry was also closely bound up with research into the health and physical condition of people living under different social and economic conditions. Tanner quotes the French physician, Louis-René Villermé (1782–1863), as noting that
Human height becomes greater and growth takes place more rapidly, other things beings equal, in proportion as the country is richer, comfort more general, houses, clothes and nourishment better, and labour, fatigue and privation during infancy and youth less; in other words, the circumstances which accompany poverty delay the age at which complete stature is reached and stunt adult height.

Although it is important to recognize the scientific reasons for the growth of interest in anthropometry, one should also acknowledge the fact that many of the measurements made of human beings in the past were conducted for more immediate and, perhaps, less exalted reasons. With the exception of skeletal evidence, most of the information which we now possess about the heights of people in the more distant past has come from measurements made of soldiers at the time of recruitment. One of the reasons for measuring soldiers was to discover whether they met the Army's minimum height standards, but other groups, such as convicts, slaves, and indentured servants, were measured so that they could be identified more readily in the event of escape. By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, increasing interest was being shown in the measurement of children. Some of the earliest measurements, such as those made by the British factory surgeons, were designed to establish whether the children were old enough to be employed; others were intended to establish the children's fitness for physical education.

The subject of anthropometry is of considerable interest to historians, not only because of its intellectual importance, but also because of the capacity of anthropometric measurements to shed new light on the health and well-being of past generations. In 1969, the French historian, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie (b. 1929), showed that there was a close relationship between the average height of soldiers who were recruited by the French army in 1868, and their level of literacy. This work provided the initial stepping-stone for the development of a new field of historical enquiry, known as anthropometric history, in both Europe and the US. Some of the leading examples of this new field include Robert Fogel's work on the average heights of native-born white males in the US; Richard Steckel's investigations into the heights of American slaves; Roderick Floud, Kenneth Wachter, and Annabel Gregory's examination of the heights of British soldiers; and John Komlos' study of the heights of Austro-Hungarian soldiers under the Hapsburg monarchy.

The investigations conducted by historians, physical anthropologists, human biologists, and others have generated a vast amount of data on the history of human height, weight, and body proportions over the course of the last two centuries. It is now apparent that the average height of human beings in most parts of the world is significantly greater than that of their forebears 100–200 years ago. The extent of these changes is a further indication of the overwhelming importance of social and economic factors in determining average height, and the relatively minor role played by ‘racial’ differences. At the same time, it is also clear that some populations have experienced greater increases in height than others, and that there are still substantial variations in the heights of people living on different parts of the globe. The persistence of these variations highlights the need for further improvements in standards of diet and sanitation in order to ensure that all children have the opportunity to achieve their full growth potential in the future.

Anthropometry in the twentieth century included estimation of the ration of fat to lean body mass — important in the study of energy balance and obesity — by measurement of body density or skinfold thicknesses, and more recently by the application of technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging and radioisotope studies.

Bernard Harris

Bibliography

Eveleth, P. B. and and Tanner, J. M. (1990). Worldwide variation in human growth. Cambridge University Press.
Harris, B. (1994). Health, height and history: an overview of recent developments in anthropometric history. Social History of Medicine, 7, 297–320.
Spencer, F. ed. (1997). History of physical anthropology. Garland, New York and London.
Tanner, J. M. (1981). A history of the study of human growth. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


See also anthropology; energy balance; obesity; phrenology.

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Anthropometry

Anthropometry

The measurement of the human body, its component parts and relative dimensions, such as body weight, height, length of limbic bones, pelvic bones, skull , etc., is known as anthropometry. The word anthropometry comes from the Greek anthropos, meaning man, plus the word metron, meaning measure. Anthropometry is a scientific tool presently used in several fields including medicine , anthropology , archeology, and forensic science to study and compare relative body proportions among human groups and between genders. For instance, by comparing relative body and bone proportions between two groups of children of the same age, under normal and abnormal conditions, physicians can determine the impact of malnourishment upon the physical development during childhood. Anthropologists compare cranial and body proportions to identify sets of characteristics common to individuals of a given race and the morphological differences among races. Paleontologists are able to tell historical periods using anthropometrysuch as whether a set of skeletal remains pertains to a Neanderthal (man, woman, or child) or to a Homo Sapien.

Anthropology is the discipline that has developed anthropometrical comparison studies into a set of reliable standardized data and mathematical formulae, which are now useful for both modern forensic science and archeology. Presently, anthropometry is a well-established forensic technique, which uses anthropological databanks to calculate computational ratios of specific bones and skull features associated with differences between genders and with specific races. For instance, the size and conformation of pelvic bones and skull structures can indicate gender; the length of the long bones of limbs allows the estimation of height. The metric proportions of skull features, given by the size, shape, and relative position of structural bones such as the temporal bones and the mastoid process, superciliary ridge, supraorbital foramen, zygomatic bone, nasal bone, mandible, ocular orbits, etc., may indicate race (Caucasian, Asian, African, or Native American), age (fetus, newborn, child, young adult, etc.), and gender.

When a complete skeleton is available, the level of reliability in establishing sex, age, and race through anthropometrics is almost 100%. Pelvic bones alone offer a 95% reliability, while pelvic bones plus the skull result in an accurate estimation 98% of the time. Sex can be determined by studying the size and shape of some skull bones and by comparing them with the well-established dimorphisms (differences in shape) between human male and female skulls. For instance, the mastoid process, a conic protuberance forming the posterior part of the right and left temporal bones, is large enough in males for the skull to rest on it on the surface of a table. In the female skull, however, the mastoid process will tilt backward to rest on the occipital area or other portions of the skull. This happens because the mastoid process in the female skull is not large enough to keep it in a balanced position on a flat surface. Gender dimorphisms are also found in many other human bones.

Forensic anthropometry may also indicate the nutritional status of an individual, along with existing degenerative diseases or infections at the time of death. Such information may be combined with other kind of circumstantial and forensic data to identify human remains and to determine the cause of death .

Anthropometry was not always considered a true science, however, because it initially gave rise to several political and social pseudo-scientific assumptions, and even to some poorly based medical theories, especially during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cesare Lombroso (18361908), an Italian physician, published a series of essays, "The Criminal Man" (1875), "Algometrics of the Sane and the Alienated Man" (1878), "The Delinquent Man" (1897), and, in 1900, "The Crime, Causes and Remedies," stating that two types of criminal temperaments existed, the criminoid and the natural-born criminal. Lombroso claimed that some specific anthropometrical body proportions were associated with each type of criminal. According to Lombroso, the natural-born criminal, whose urge to commit crimes was beyond his own will due to a hereditary psychological illness and compulsion, had prominent, long jaws and low eyebrows. The criminoid type of criminal, such as pickpockets and petty thieves, had long narrow fingers and scanty beards. Through facial, skull, and hand anthropometrics, Lombrose developed what came to be known as these Lombrosian Types.

Paul Broca (18241880), a French surgeon interested in brain morphology, published his anthropometrical studies in his essays "General Instructions for the Anthropological Investigation" and "Craniological and Craniometrical Instructions." Broca declared that women should be denied higher education because their cranial volume was smaller than a man's. According to Broca, the reduced cranial volume of women indicated that human females were less intelligent than males.

Another example of pseudo-scientific use of anthropometrics involved claims by Nazi scientists during World War II (19391945) that they could establish racial profiles of pure Aryan populations, along with profiles of non-Aryans that they considered inferior, on the basis of measurements of skull and facial proportions and other body characteristics.

These unfounded misuses of anthropometrics gave way to more sound scientific approaches after 1950. Besides forensics, anthropometrics are now also used in industry for sizing clothing, machines, and other products to fit the people who use them.

see also Anthropology; Osteology and skeletal radiology; Pathology; Pseudoscience and forensics; Sex determination; Sexual dimorphism.

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Anthropometry

Anthropometry

The measurement of the human body, its component parts and relative dimensions, such as body weight, height, length of limbic bones, pelvic bones, skull, etc., is known as anthropometry. The word anthropometry comes from the Greek anthropos, meaning man, plus the word metron, meaning measure. Anthropometry is a scientific tool presently used in several fields including medicine, anthropology, archeology, and forensic science to study and compare relative body proportions among human groups and between genders. For instance, by comparing relative body and bone proportions between two groups of children of the same age, under normal and abnormal conditions, physicians can determine the impact of malnourishment upon the physical development during childhood. Anthropologists compare cranial and body proportions to identify sets of characteristics common to individuals of a given race and the morphological differences among races. Paleontologists are able to tell historical periods using anthropometrysuch as whether a set of skeletal remains pertains to a Neanderthal (man, woman, or child) or to a Homo sapien.

Anthropology is the discipline that has developed anthropometrical comparison studies into a set of reliable standardized data and mathematical formulae, which are now useful for both modern forensic science and archeology. Presently, anthropometry is a well-established forensic technique, which uses anthropological databanks to calculate computational ratios of specific bones and skull features associated with differences between genders and with specific races. For instance, the size and conformation of pelvic bones and skull structures can indicate gender; the length of the long bones of limbs allows the estimation of height. The metric proportions of skull features, given by the size, shape, and relative position of structural bones such as the temporal bones and the mastoid process, superciliary ridge, supraorbital foramen, zygomatic bone, nasal bone, mandible, ocular orbits, etc., may indicate race (Caucasian, Asian, African, or Native American), age (fetus, newborn, child, young adult, etc.), and gender.

When a complete skeleton is available, the level of reliability in establishing sex, age, and race through anthropometrics is almost 100%. Pelvic bones alone offer a 95% reliability, while pelvic bones plus the skull result in an accurate estimation 98% of the time. Sex can be determined by studying the size and shape of some skull bones and by comparing them with the well-established dimorphisms (differences in shape) between human male and female skulls. For instance, the mastoid process, a conic protuberance forming the posterior part of the right and left temporal bones, is large enough in males for the skull to rest on it on the surface of a table. In the female skull, however, the mastoid process will tilt backward to rest on the occipital area or other portions of the skull. This happens because the mastoid process in the female skull is not large enough to keep it in a balanced position on a flat surface. Gender dimorphisms are also found in many other human bones.

Forensic anthropometry may also indicate the nutritional status of an individual, along with existing degenerative diseases or infections at the time of death. Such information may be combined with other kind of circumstantial and forensic data to identify human remains and to determine the cause of death.

Anthropometry was not always considered a true science, however, because it initially gave rise to several political and social pseudo-scientific assumptions, and even to some poorly based medical theories, especially during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Cesare Lombroso (18361908), an Italian physician, published a series of essays, The Criminal Man (1875), Algometrics of the Sane and the Alienated Man (1878), The Delinquent Man (1897), and, in 1900, The Crime, Causes and Remedies, stating that two types of criminal temperaments existed, the criminoid and the natural-born criminal. Lombroso claimed that some specific anthropometrical body

proportions were associated with each type of criminal. According to Lombroso, the natural-born criminal, whose urge to commit crimes was beyond his own will due to a hereditary psychological illness and compulsion, had prominent, long jaws and low eyebrows. The criminoid type of criminal, such as pickpockets and petty thieves, had long narrow fingers and scanty beards. Through facial, skull, and hand anthropometrics, Lombrose developed what came to be known as these Lombrosian Types.

Paul Broca (18241880), a French surgeon interested in brain morphology, published his anthropometrical studies in his essays General Instructions for the Anthropological Investigation and Cranio-logical and Craniometrical Instructions. Broca declared that women should be denied higher education because their cranial volume was smaller than a mans. According to Broca, the reduced cranial volume of women indicated that human females were less intelligent than males.

Another example of pseudo-scientific use of anthropometrics involved claims by Nazi scientists during the World War II (19391941) that they could establish racial profiles of pure Aryan populations, along with profiles of non-Aryans that they considered inferior, on the basis of measurements of skull and facial proportions and other body characteristics.

These unfounded misuses of anthropometrics gave way to more sound scientific approaches after 1950. Besides forensics, anthropometrics are now also used in industry for sizing clothing, machines, and other products to fit the people who use them.

See also Autopsy; Forensic science.

Sandra Galeotti

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Anthropometry

Anthropometry

EARLY ANTHROPOMETRIC BELIEFS

MODERN ANTHROPOMETRY

ANTHROPOMETRY AND RACIAL POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES

THE MODERN POPULATION PERSPECTIVE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Anthropometry is the scientific study of variation in the size and shape of the human body. Anthropometric data have been used both to justify the belief in human biological “races” and to discredit this erroneous belief. This entry provides an overview of anthropometry and its relationship with “race” and racism.

EARLY ANTHROPOMETRIC BELIEFS

The earliest written records about human size date from about 3500 BCE in Sumeria. Several texts from this period mention a positive relationship between health, social status, and stature. The Sumerians were thus surprisingly astute, for this essentially echoes the current biocultural view of the causes of variation in human body size and shape. Groups of people growing and developing under social, economic, and cultural conditions that foster better nutrition and health tend to be, on average, taller and have longer arms and legs than groups of people growing up under less favorable sociocultural conditions. After more than a century of scientific research, this view may seem commonsensical, but it has not always been so.

The philosophers of the ancient Greeks, such as Plato and Aristotle (c. 350 BCE), considered living people and their cultures to be imperfect copies of an ideal type of physical human being and sociocultural system. The variation in body size and shape among various cultures was seen to be a consequence of the degree of imperfection within different societies. The Greeks of ancient Athens believed that they were closest to the ideal, and that the people of other societies were less perfect. However, the Greeks did not believe in the concept of “race,” of fundamental biological divisions of humankind. Rather, they accepted the unity of all humankind.

MODERN ANTHROPOMETRY

The term “anthropometry” was coined by Johann Sigismund Elsholtz (1623-1688), who also invented an anthropometer, a device for measuring stature and the length of body parts such as arms and legs. Elsholtz was interested in testing the notion of the Greek physician Hippocrates (460?–357 BCE) that differences in body proportion were related to various diseases. In 1881, the French anthropologist Paul Topinard (1830–1911) applied anthropometry to the study of human “races, so as to distinguish them and establish their relations to each other” (Topinard 1881, p. 212).

Another line of racial investigation was craniology, the study of the skull. The Dutch physician Petrus Camper (1722–1789) and his followers measured various angles of the facial bones to determine the race and sex of skulls. Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752–1840), a German naturalist and anthropologist, identified five “races,” based on a visual inspection of skull shape and size. One of these was named the “Caucasian race,” based on skulls from the Caucasus Mountains region of Georgia. Blumenbach believed that the living people of Georgia were the closest to the original form of the primordial Caucasian type, with European Caucasians being the next closest to the original.

In the United States, Samuel George Morton (1799– 1851) refined the methods and equipment of craniometry. Believing that exacting measurement is more scientific than Blumenbach’s visual method, Morton invented devices to compute a dozen skull measurements. In contrast, the Swedish anthropologist Anders Adolf Retzius (1796– 1860) reduced Morton’s assortment of skull measurements to only two (length and breadth), and he applied these to the heads of living people as well. A simple ratio—head length divided by breadth, or the cephalic index—could then be calculated. One school of craniometrists proposed that “inferior” races were characterized by people with round heads, or by a ratio greater than 0.80. Northern Europeans, the alleged “superior” race, had relatively longer, narrower heads, or a ratio below 0.75. Other craniometrists, such as Paul Broca (1824–1880) disproved this fantasy by showing that all human groups, living and dead, had all types of cranial indices. In place of the cephalic index, Broca proposed that the size of the brain, and its shape, varied between the “races,” the sexes, and between individuals of higher and lower intelligence. In time, this notion was also proven false, but the belief in head shape or brain size as a determinant of “race” and intelligence persisted well into the twentieth century.

ANTHROPOMETRY AND RACIAL POLITICS IN THE UNITED STATES

By the late nineteenth century, “race scientists” and politicians in the United States were using anthropometry for all sorts of pernicious purposes. American slavery had long been justified based on the “inferior” racial biology of Africans. Segregation in post–Civil War America was similarly justified by race science. In addition, the influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and from China was seen as a new threat to privileged white Americans. Racists used the measurement of stature, body shape, head shape, and brain size as a means to prevent these undesirable “races” entry into the United States.

Some researchers, however, challenged the use of anthropometry for immigration policy. Starting in 1875, Henry Pickering Bowditch (1840–1911) gathered measurements of height and weight of 24,500 school children from around Boston, Massachusetts. In a series of reports published in 1877, 1879, and 1891, Bowditch applied modern statistical methods to describe differences in growth associated with sex, nationality, and socioeconomic level. Bowditch was the first person to construct percentile growth charts, which show the range of normal body growth by sex and age. His findings, published in 1885, showed that the “races” overlapped considerably in their range of body sizes, but that children from the laboring classes were smaller than children from the nonlaboring classes. To account for this fact, Bowditch offered an environmental explanation. He said the nonlaboring classes were taller because of the “greater average comfort in which [they] live and grow up” (Boyd 1980, p. 469).

This conclusion ran counter to that of English savant Francis Galton (1822–1911). In his book Natural Inheritance (1889) Galton suggested that stature and other physical traits were highly heritable. Galton’s work led some to believe that heredity was the all-powerful determinant of human form and functional capabilities. Galton’s work was used to support the eugenics movement, a pseudoscientific political movement that claimed to be able to improve the human species through controlled breeding. Eugenicists held that the laboring classes were genetically inferior to the nonlaboring classes. One supposed proof of this inferiority was their short stature. Eugenicists also believed that the race, or ethnic origin, of American-born children could easily be determined on the basis of physical measurements, and that racial admixture, especially between Anglo-Saxons and people from southern and eastern Europe, would bring about a physical degeneration of Americans.

Franz Boas (1858–1942), a German-born anthropologist working in the United States, demolished the position of the eugenicists using the data of Bowditch and his own studies of migrants to the United States. Boas found that the children of recent immigrants grew up to look much like the “good old Americans” (older generations of immigrants from northern Europe) due to modifications in the process of growth and development as a response to environmental change. Accordingly, Boas concluded that human physical plasticity is what is real, while the belief in the permanence of “races” is false. The changes in growth discovered by Boas applied to both the laboring and nonlaboring classes. Boas ascribed these changes in physical form to the better health care, nutrition, and child-rearing practices in the United States.

Despite this work, many eugenicists and politicians still called for quotas on the immigration of so-called inferior peoples into the United States. In 1911, Boas presented to the U.S. Congress a report titled Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants, which explained his research and probably helped delay the imposition of limitations on immigration. Nevertheless, the American Congress eventually passed the “Immigration Restriction Acts” of 1921 and 1924, which specifically placed immigration quotas on southern and eastern Europeans and Asians.

Yet while Boas and the environmentalists may have lost that political battle, their work influenced future generations of anthropologists, public health workers, epidemiologists, and others. A full appreciation of Boas’ work waited until after the Nazi holocaust of World War II (committed in the name of “racial purification”) and new discoveries in genetics after 1950. Anthropologists then began to reject the typological approach and the concept of “race” in favor of a population approach to the study of human variation and adaptation.

THE MODERN POPULATION PERSPECTIVE

The population approach employs an understanding of human anthropometry, genetics, demography, and socio-cultural behavior to show that there are no scientifically definable boundaries between human groups—meaning that there are no biological “races.” It is known in the early twenty-first century that there is more genetic and anthropometric variation among individuals within any of the “races” than there is between people of different “races.” Africa and Europe, for example, include populations that are both tall (Tutsi men of Rwanda average 5’8”, while Dutch men average 6’) and short (Efe Pygmy men average 4’8”, while Portuguese men average 5’6”).

It is also understood in the early 2000s that there are an unlimited number of social races, or groups of people who are defined on the basis of shared social, economic, political, and religious characteristics, as well as other cultural values such as child-rearing practices. These sociocultural traits can influence the development of biological traits. For example, racism can lead to poverty for some groups, which decreases stature and other body measurements (Komlos 1994). Some social races place infants on their backs to sleep, which tends to produce rounder heads. Social races change over time, and the anthropometric traits of these groups also change. None of these changes in body size or shape are genetic. Rather they are evidence of biological plasticity in body form during the years of growth and development (Lasker 1969). A change in the environment, such as alleviation of poverty or a change in infant sleeping position from stomach to back, will alter the body shape of the affected generation in new ways.

Body proportions, such as leg length relative to total stature, have been widely used to define “races.” In this view, Africans have the relatively longest legs, Asians (including Native Americans) have the shortest legs, and Europeans are intermediate in leg length. These proportions were believed to be immutable, but research has shown that the body proportions of a group can change significantly. Since 1960, the relative leg length of Japanese has increased to the point where it is indistinguishable from that of the British. The Maya of Guatemala are very short-legged, but Mayan children born in the United States have relative leg length that falls within the normal range of both white and black American children. The change among the Maya-Americans occurred in less than a generation, meaning that it cannot be due to genetics. Instead, it seems to be due to improvements in the total quality of their life in the United States.

Thus, at the start of the twenty-first century, a bio-cultural understanding of human development is replacing outdated applications of anthropometry. The new anthropometry is used to assess the social, economic, and political history of human groups, the health of individuals, and the well-being of the human population.

SEE ALSO Boas, Franz; Cranial Index; Cultural Racism; Eugenics, History of; Galton, Francis; Genetics, History of; Human and Primate Evolution; Human Genetics; Immigration to the United States; Racial Hierarchy; Racial Purity (U.S.), 1900-1910.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boas, Franz. 1940. Race, Language, and Culture. New York: Free Press.

Bogin, Barry. 1999. Patterns of Human Growth, 2nd ed. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Bogin, Barry, et al. 2002. “Rapid Change in Height and Body Proportions of Maya American Children.” American Journal of Human Biology 14: 753–761.

Boyd, Edith. 1980. Origins of the Study of Human Growth. Edited by Bhim S. Savara and John F. Schilke. Eugene: University of Oregon Press.

Gould, Stephen J. 1996. The Mismeasure of Man, 2nd ed. New York: Norton.

Komlos, John, ed. 1994. Stature, Living Standards, and Economic Development: Essays in Anthropometric History. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Lasker, Gabriel W. 1969. “Human Biological Adaptability.” Science 166: 1480–1486.

Marks, Jonathan. 1995. Human Biodiversity: Genes, Race, and History. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

Spencer, Frank, ed. 1997. History of Physical Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland.

Tanner, James M. 1981. A History of the Study of Human Growth. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Topinard, Paul. 1881. “Observations upon the Methods and Process of Anthropometry.” Journal of Anthropological Institute 10: 212.

Barry Bogin

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Anthropometry

ANTHROPOMETRY


Anthropometry is the science of human body measurement. Anthropometric data include measures of length, breadth, and weight of the body, circumferences of body parts, amounts of muscle and fat, the weight and size of body organs, and the size, shape, and density of bones. Many anthropometric measurements can be taken on the living, some may be taken on skeletal samples from historical burials or archaeological contexts, and other measurements are only feasible from autopsy after death. Anthropometric data are used in population research to understand the health, social, economic, and political conditions of groups of people, especially when conventional indicators (e.g., medical records, extent of schooling, gross domestic product, real wages) are not available. Such groups of people include most historical populations, slaves, archaeological populations, and many people alive today living in traditional cultures.

Kinds of Anthropometric Measures

Table 1 lists several kinds of anthropometric measures, their meaning, and methods of assessment. Height is a measure of the total history of growth of the individual. Centimeters of height accumulate over time and are the product of complex biological, behavioral, and ecological interactions. Weight represents total body mass and is a measure of recent events. Weight is more labile than height to short-term influences of diet, activity, and health. Weight may decrease over time, but height does not do so, at least during the first decades of life. The height and weight of any single individual is not of much use in population studies, but the heights and weights of many individuals from a defined group may reveal a great deal of information. Expected amounts and rates of growth in height and weight for healthy individuals at given ages from birth to maturity are well established.

These data may be used as references to compare the growth of members of the particular group under study. Significant deviations from the reference usually indicate some ecological disturbance to growth, such as poor nutrition, disease, abnormal lifestyle, psychosocial problems, and even war. Genetic disturbances to growth are well known, but usually affect individuals and not whole populations. Variations in physical growth and population structure are sensitive indicators of the quality of the environment and may be used as a mirror, reflecting rather accurately the material and moral conditions of that society.

Interpreting Anthropometric Data

Reference data are also available for virtually all anthropometric measures, and as is the case for height and weight, such references may be used to interpret the determinants of growth and development. The length of body segments (such as sitting height), thickness of skinfolds, and circumferences are used to characterize body proportions and body composition, especially the amount of muscle and fat. These measures provide more detailed evidence of health or disturbances to growth; for example, adults with short legs relative to total stature often experienced malnutrition and disease during infancy and childhood.

Radiographs reveal the degree of formation of the skeleton. The amount of skeletal maturation provides an indication of biological age, which is not identical to chronological age. Early maturers will have more advanced skeletal development than late maturers. Rate of maturation influences many biosocial capacities of the individual, including fertility. Rate of maturation may in turn be influenced by environmental quality. Finally, handgrip strength provides a measure of total physical fitness, especially as it relates to physical work capacity. In populations in which physical labor is important, greater size, skeletal maturity, and strength lead to greater productivity.

Anthropometric measurements can be collected relatively quickly and inexpensively. When properly collected, they are safe, painless, and minimally invasive. Still, taking measurements requires the cooperation, understanding, and informed consent of all participants. As children are often the subjects of growth studies it is necessary that the guardians of these children (parents, school authorities) be fully informed as to the nature of the measurements and the purpose of the research, and provide consent for the measurements. More generally, sensitivity by those conducting the research to the cultural values of the subjects is essential.

Anthropometric Data in Population Studies

An example of the use of anthropometric data in population studies comes from a survey of 8,000 years of human growth in Latin America. The data

TABLE 1

are for 597 samples of adult height for men and women, representing 32,922 individual measurements of stature on the living or estimates of stature from archaeological and cemetery samples. The people are Native Americans and low socioeconomic status mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Native American heritage). The data and main trends in height are presented in Figure 1. The data were analyzed by plotting the mean value for each sample and then fitting a distance-weighted least square regression line, a type of average curve.

The oldest data in this set are for skeletal remains of a foraging people living along the coast of Ecuador. These people ate a wide variety of foods, including abundant fish and shellfish, and lived in relatively small social groups, with low population density. Their bones, teeth, and stature all indicate that they were relatively healthy. The next group includes the remains of horticulturists from Peru. They produced a wide variety of garden foods, and also hunted and gathered wild animal and plant foods. The density of the population was low to moderate, and the people seem to have been organized into tribal-type groups, with minimal social stratification. Their growth shows evidence of increasing adaptation to sedentary life and improvement of nutrition and health.

The data from 1,000 b.c.e. to 1750 c.e. come from people who practiced intensive agriculture. Several lines of evidence indicate that, overall, these people experienced reductions in stature, longevity, and health compared with the earlier periods. Agriculture may have produced a more monotonous and lower quality diet for the majority of people. The people also lived in larger and denser populations with more intensive and invasive social and political control, and strong social stratification. The social differences are expressed in stature, as the political elites were the tallest men and women in the samples. After 1500 c.e., average statures decline rapidly as a consequence of the European conquest and the social and biological insults that were imposed on the native people. During the historic period (after 1873) most Latin Americans lived by means of subsistence agriculture and wage labor. Politically, the general tendency was to have systems of local dictatorship,

FIGURE 1

with economic exploitation by European and North American countries. The health and nutrition of Amerindians and rural mestizos suffered under this system. These conditions remained in place up through the first half of the twentieth century in much of Latin America. The worldwide economic depression of the 1930s intensified these already deleterious conditions for the biological, economic, and social well being of Native Latin Americans. The negative trend in stature until 1939 may be a consequence of these environmental conditions.

The positive trend in stature from 1940 to 1989 is associated with the worldwide economic recovery sparked by World War II. Latin America benefited from this recovery and did not suffer the ravages of the war in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. Postwar economic growth continued, especially with foreign investment. This expanded economies, helped to increase the rate of urbanization, and the redistribution of the population via rural-to-urban migration. The positive trend for stature may be an outcome of these changes in the standard of living and demographic structure.

Conclusion

These brief examples, and many others like them, show how anthropometric data serve population studies as general measures for the quality of life, as quantitative economic indicators of the standard of living, and as summary measures of human welfare.

See also: Biodemography; Data Collection, Ethical Issues in; Demographic Surveys, History and Methodology of; Nutrition and Calorie Consumption.

bibliography

Bogin, Barry. 1999. Patterns of Human Growth, 2nd edition. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press.

——. 2001. The Growth of Humanity. New York: Wiley-Liss.

Bogin, Barry, and Ryan Keep. 1998. "Eight Thousand Years of Human Growth in Latin America: Economic and Political History Revealed by Anthropometry." In The Biological Standard of Living and Economic Development: Nutrition, Health, and Well Being in Historical Perspective, ed. John Komlos and Joerg Baten. Munich: Fritz Steiner.

Tanner, James M. 1986. "Growth as a Mirror for the Conditions of Society: Secular Trends and Class Distinctions." In Human Growth: A Multidisciplinary Review, ed. Arto Demirjian. London: Taylor and Francis.

internet resource.

National Center for Health Statistics. 2000. "CDC Growth Charts: United States." <http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts/>.

Barry Bogin

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Anthropometry

ANTHROPOMETRY

John Komlos and Robert Whaples

Anthropometric history is based on the analysis of the physical characteristics of human beings, especially height, weight, and the body mass index. Beginning in the late 1970s, researchers analyzed such data from historical populations, and their findings have reshaped our understanding of social and economic history in fundamental ways.

The systematic study of the physical characteristics of human beings reaches back well into the eighteenth century. By the 1830s both Adolphe Quételet and L. R. Villermé recognized that biological outcomes were influenced by both the natural and the socioeconomic environment—that innate differences in potential height did not account by themselves for the geographic, social, and temporal differences in physical stature. However, until French historians of the Annales tradition began to explore the socioeconomic correlates of human height in the 1960s, the topic interested primarily scholars of nonhistorical disciplines. The explosion of research in the field of anthropometric history has been sparked by cliometricians—economic historians who explicitly link economic models with measurement and statistical techniques. This new field of "anthropometric history" has primarily used human biological measures as complements to (and sometimes substitutes for) conventional indicators of well-being and has also begun to investigate their social consequences.

SOCIOECONOMIC INFLUENCES ON HEIGHT

The relationship between the height of a population and its social and economic structure is based on the biological principle that human growth is related to nutritional status—nutrition intake minus such claims on nutrition as body maintenance, work, and disease encounters. Calories and protein consumption not used for these other purposes during childhood and adolescence are available to enable the human organism to grow. These proximate determinants of stature are themselves determined by socioeconomic factors (figure 1). Since the body's ability to process nutrients is influenced by its disease encounters, the epidemiological environment, hygiene practices, population density, and government policy all have played an important role in determining anthropometric outcomes. The work environment and effort expended prior to reaching adulthood also matter. We now know with certainty that historically the physical stature of a population or subpopulation depended generally on such socioeconomic factors as the level, variability, and distribution of real income, as well as on the relative price and availability of nutrients, particularly of dairy products and other animal proteins. Urbanization and the degree of commercialization of the economy also had an impact on the human growth process, as have, beginning in the late 1800s, such factors as government expenditures on public health and sanitation and the level of educational attainment. In sum, because humans cease to grow after a certain age, the height of a population cohort is a historical record of the nutritional intake in conjunction with environmental factors during the cohort's childhood and youth.

The relationship between nutritional intake and physical growth has been established beyond doubt by medical and biological experimental research, with maternal nutrition also playing a significant role. Genes are important determinants of individuals' heights, but genetic differences approximately cancel in comparisons of averages across most large groups and nations; so in these situations average heights accurately reflect net nutrition.

MEASURES OF WELL-BEING

There are many reasons for integrating human biology into mainstream social and economic history. These include the limitations of using a single measure, such as gross domestic product (GDP) or income per capita, as a proxy for overall welfare, as well as the difficulties associated with deriving income data in historical populations. Human well-being involves such a complicated set of issues that a wide array of concepts and measures is needed to understand it adequately. The best measures of human well-being should meet several criteria: they should have a sound theoretical basis linking them to well-being, they should be concise and easy to understand, and they should be so widely used that new measurements can be easily compared with well-known benchmarks.

Real GDP per capita has been the most widely used measure of the standard of living because it fulfills these criteria: GDP provides a way to aggregate diverse goods produced by the economy using prices (which reflect marginal benefits) as weights; most economic models show that well-being should increase with rising income per capita; and GDP per capita is immediately understood and widely used. However, GDP per capita has many well-known shortcomings as a proxy for welfare. It does not include the value of leisure and other nonmarket activities, does not consider the impact of pollution and other environmental externalities, makes no attempt to encompass distributional concerns, and is plagued by problems of correctly adjusting for inflation and spatial price differences. In addition, income measures are not available for subpopulations in a historical context, including women, children, aristocrats, and slaves, and its distribution within the household is by no means clear.

Biological measures have emerged as an additional tool that meets the above-mentioned criteria. Sometimes called the biological standard of living (as opposed to GDP per capita's material standard of living), height indexes measure how well the human organism itself thrives in its socioeconomic and epidemiological environment and capture the biologically relevant component of welfare. In distinction to other, more direct measures of health, such as longevity and morbidity, average physical stature is relatively easy to compute for many historical populations, and it can be quickly compared to modern distributions. Health measures emphasize that the human experience ought not to be thought of in one dimension: well-being encompasses more than the command over goods and services. Health in general contributes to welfare, independent of income. Stature picks up some of the factors left out by simple income measures, such as work intensity and opportunities to rest, environmental concerns, and even the distribution of resources. Height is also an important determinant of life expectancy.

To be sure, height indexes have their own set of limitations, including the facts that their relevance is confined to the first two decades of life, they cannot easily measure improvements in well-being beyond a certain threshold, and they abstract from the consumption of a wide range of goods and services that people value enough to trade against nutritional status. Both income and stature are correlated with, but distinct from, two of the measures of well-being that are incorporated into the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI)—education and longevity—as well as such intangibles as freedom, empowerment, capabilities, and spiritual well-being. Hence, neither height nor income is a perfect measure of welfare. Such a measure does not exist. Instead, historians have used these measures in tandem with one another so as better to understand the past. While the two measures are often closely correlated with each other, the exceptions to the rule provide rare insights for our understanding of historical processes.

APPLICATIONS OF ANTHROPOMETRY

Anthropometric measures emerged in the late 1970s, when the primary concerns of economic historians were to extend the existing indexes of living standards backward in time, to illuminate the famous debate about the living conditions of workers during the industrial revolution, and to provide indexes where none existed before. For instance, conventional measures of money income obviously did not exist for American slaves, whose well-being was at the center of a major historical controversy surrounding the publication of Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman's Time on the Cross in 1974. Richard Steckel, a student of Fogel, subsequently explored slaves' physical stature records obtained from slave shipping documents (manifests). His findings turned out to be quite astounding—adult slaves were relatively tall by contemporary standards. In fact, they were taller than most Europeans, and about as tall as American urban workers. Perhaps even more surprising was the finding that despite their heavy work regimen, on American soil slaves actually grew to be taller than the African populations from whence they originated. To be sure, the latter comparison reflects not only the food allotments they received but also the propitious disease environment and resource endowment of the American South.

This was a major finding, and even though subsequent research revealed that slave children were grossly (and perhaps systematically) undernourished, it unleashed a veritable avalanche of research on anthropometric history. Soon thereafter, a large number of new archival sources were explored, including military, criminal, insurance, hospital, and school records, voter registration cards, servant contracts, newspaper advertisements, certificates of freedom, anthropologists' field observations, and even skeletal remains. Anthropometricians have also examined data on birth weight, the body mass index (BMI)—which measures weight divided by height squared (kg/m2)—and various body dimensions such as percent body fat and waist-to-hip ratio. With some half a million observations studied so far, anthropometricians have merely scraped the tip of an iceberg. An impressive array of statistical techniques have been developed to deal with the biases of particular data sets—such as military minimum height requirements—to calculate group means and distributions. Fortunately, the normality of height distributions facilitates this task.

In addition to slaves, there were a number of other subpopulations, such as subsistence peasants, aristocrats, children, and housewives, who were not integrated into the labor market and for whom, therefore, conventional indexes of living standards, such as daily wages, did not exist. The problem of data scarcity also applies to societies in which statistics are inaccurate. This pertains to some degree to most economies prior to the mid-nineteenth century but also to such twentieth-century dictatorial regimes as the Soviet Union or Maoist China. For instance, during Stalin's reign, in spite of the extensive propaganda announcing economic progress, the average height of military recruits increased by only 1.1 centimeters, whereas in the United States the advance was fully twice as large and was even greater in Western Europe. The problem of data representativeness applies also to societies in which the informal sector is a substantial share of the economy but is not part of the official records. In Soweto, for example, anthropometric measures have provided the only reliable information on the well-being of children.

Another important line of research recognizes the significance of physiological development on the course of economic development itself. Drawing on the modern positive relationship between body mass index and mortality, Fogel argues that over half the decline in European mortality that has occurred during the last three centuries was the result of economic and nutritional factors that were associated with increases in body size. John Murray's research shows that the modern relationship between BMI and mortality risk is very similar to that which prevailed in the 1800s, thus supporting Fogel's argument. This implies a positive feedback mechanism: better economic conditions cause greater stature, which makes people healthier and more productive, which in turn strengthens economic growth. The twentieth-century trend in body size also has important implications for future mortality trends and policies regarding aging.

The insights gained thus far from the anthropometric research program have been substantial, and the methodology is widely regarded as one of the most important recent developments in the field of economic history.

LEVELS AND TRENDS IN AVERAGE HEIGHT

Heights have increased steadily in the developed and much of the developing world during the twentieth

TABLE 1
LONG-TERM TRENDS IN THE STATURE OF ADULT MEN (IN CENTIMETERS)
Birth-Decade U.S. U.K. Sweden Norway Netherlands France Austria Germany
Sources: Nicholas and Steckel (1991); Sandberg and Steckel (1987); Steckel and Floud (1997); Steckel (1995); Komlos (1999); Komlos (1989); Baten (1999).
1750172167167165n.a. 165 
1800173166167166166164163 
1850170165168169165165 163
1900171169173171170167 169
1950177174178178178172171176
1970178 184 185  183

century. However, this trend ought not be projected backward in time. Prior epochs were characterized by long country-specific fluctuations in physical stature. In western Europe before the twentieth century, adult male heights generally varied between 165 and 170 centimeters, and decadal movements often corresponded well with business cycles. As table 1 shows, Europeans were considerably shorter than their American cousins during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, by the late twentieth century, the Dutch and Scandinavians were the tallest peoples in the world—between five and seven centimeters taller than Americans.

A significant episode of declining heights occurred in Europe during the late eighteenth century at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Average heights fell in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, and Bavaria beginning around the 1760s. Insofar as real wages fell consistently throughout much of that period, the decline in physical stature in the second half of the eighteenth century is not paradoxical (figure 2). The rapid demographic expansion in Europe, coupled with such exogenous factors as the deterioration in weather conditions, brought about diminishing returns to labor in agriculture, making it more difficult to maintain the nutritional status of the population. As long as the agricultural sector was dominant and trading opportunities limited, weather conditions had an obvious impact on nutritional status. Climate affected the length of the growing season and thereby the extent of the harvest. Jörg Baten has shown that physical stature in Bavaria correlated positively with tithes collected by landlords, and both were affected by mean temperatures. The output of pasture was also influenced by environmental conditions, in turn affecting milk production. Thus the increase in Bavarian heights of the 1730s was accompanied by an improvement in weather conditions, and both downturns in physical stature—in the late eighteenth century and in the 1830s and 1840s—were accompanied by adverse climatic conditions.

Several European countries, as well as the United States, experienced marked downturns in height during the 1830s and 1840s (figures 3 and 4). This pattern is more of an enigma because real wages were generally increasing as average heights fell during the period. These episodes of declining heights were often associated with the beginning of industrialization. Heights fell during the early industrial periods in Austria, Germany, Holland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Later on in the century, similar downturns were experienced by the populations in Australia and Spain but, notably, not in Japan after the Meiji Restoration and the beginning of industrialization. The diminution in the biological standard of living in the United States was particularly surprising, since per capita output was increasing by some 40 percent per generation. Most spectacularly, average heights of males born in Britain around 1850 were about 2 to 3 centimeters shorter than the average for those born around 1820. Although Britain's industrialization had begun long before, this was the country's most rapid period of urbanization. On the other hand, the evidence on France is as yet inconclusive. While the height of military recruits increased slightly (by one centimeter) during the course of the first half of the nineteenth century, that of the students enrolled in theÉcole Polytechnique seems to have diminished.

Richard Steckel and Roderick Floud argue that the timing of industrialization relative to the rise of the germ theory of disease along with public health measures, the extent of urbanization, and diets are the keys to understanding the relationship between stature and industrialization. The germ theory of disease, which became widely accepted by the medical profession by the 1880s, and the subsequent diffusion of public health measures were effective in preventing infection. Exposure to pathogens worsened with industrialization by crowding people together both inside and outside the workplace. Arduous factory work may have been a drain on health. Migration, emigration, and interregional trade brought about by industrialization also increased the exposure of the population to pathogens—as evidenced by the diffusion of epidemics along trade routes. Thus industrialization and urbanization before the development of the germ theory and measures to combat the spread of disease often caused the population to pay a biological penalty, which could not be overcome by rising incomes. After the development of the germ theory, negative health consequences among later industrializers could be largely eliminated, allowing increasing heights. In addition, some early industrializers, such as France, might have been able to avert the urban penalty. French military heights rose slightly during industrialization prior to germ theory. One reason may be that France's transition was eased by its declining fertility and slower urbanization.

Other explanations for falling heights stress additional economic forces unleashed by the onset of modern economic growth. Much evidence suggests that environmental factors, although their impact varied over time and across localities and they acted in combination with changes in the epidemiological environment, cannot completely explain the decline in health (and the biological standard of living)—that is, the trend in height remains negative even after accounting for changes in the disease environment. Critics of disease-based theories argue that if declines in heights during the 1800s were caused primarily by a deterioration in the disease environment, then one would expect that all segments of society would have been affected; diseases would not have discriminated by gender or by social status to such an extent. Hence, the fact that the physical stature of several groups, including German high-status students, American middle-class cadets, Harvard and Sandhurst students, and male slaves did not decrease at the outset of modern economic growth implies that an increased incidence of disease does not, by itself, explain the diminution in average height. After all, many of the upper- and middle-class youths were of urban origin and were surrounded by the same epidemiological environment as the common man. Moreover, heights increased in some places even as population density, urbanization, and commercialization—three important correlates of the ease with which diseases spread—also increased. This line of reasoning implies, therefore, that the decline in heights was caused primarily by a decrease in nutrient consumption and other forces spurred on by economic changes.

One such force unleashed by the onset of industrialization was the skewing of the income distribution in many places in favor of the upper-income groups. This had an adverse effect on average physical stature, inasmuch as the proportion of income spent on food declined as income rose, and the marginal contribution of nutrients to human growth diminished with increasing food intake. A shift in the distribution of income from the lower- to the upper-income stratum caused a decrease in the height of the offspring of the former group, while the height of the children of the upper classes improved by a smaller amount, thus pulling the overall average down.

Moreover, the relative price of nutrients increased considerably with industrialization, partly because technological change and capital accumulation in agriculture were slower than in industry, but also because of rapidly diminishing returns to labor in food production, particularly in Europe, in spite of the spread of the potato. In Britain, for instance, the price of food relative to textiles rose by 66 percent between 1770 and 1795. This induced a replacement of expensive calories and protein with cheaper carbohydrates, even among social groups whose income was increasing moderately. This shift happened partly because the transportation revolution was still in its infancy and methods of food preservation were primitive. Thus less milk, meat, fruits, and vegetables were available for the children and youth of the increasingly urbanized working-class households, despite the considerable advances that were being made in the industrial sector. Consequently, the composition of food intake shifted toward less protein-rich diets. Because the health implications of many consumption decisions were still unknown, some shifts in tastes, such as the increased popularity of white bread, also meant that diets were becoming less wholesome.

With the onset of industrialization, income probably became more variable for a substantial segment of society that had severed its ties to the land. Even if the reduction in food consumption brought about by such adverse developments was temporary, its stunting effect on children could be permanent.

Population growth contributed to the deterioration in nutritional status because of diminishing returns to labor in the agricultural sector in many parts of Europe, where the opportunities for expansion of arable land were quite limited. The increase in both relative and absolute bread prices throughout Europe at the end of the eighteenth century was a direct outgrowth of population expansion. Real wages declined, even in Britain, where agricultural improvements were more advanced than on the Continent.

Furthermore, industrialization and the increased division of labor in turn unleashed other processes, such as the integration of hitherto isolated regions into a larger world market, which magnified their impact on nutritional status. In the preindustrial world, remoteness from markets had a propitious impact on nutritional status—probably because almost all the output of the family plot or farm was consumed within the household or perhaps because isolation from the market also meant physical isolation and the more benign disease environment brought about by low population density. No exceptions have been found to the generalization that isolated regions had taller populations: it holds true throughout Europe, North America, and Japan. Yet, once integrated into a larger market, self-sufficient peasants with incomplete knowledge of the fundamentals of health production may have willingly or out of ignorance traded away nutrients essential to the health of their children, who became stunted (and less healthy) as a consequence. In sum, declines in physical stature were associated with economic and epidemiological processes and structural changes that often, but not always, accompanied the onset of modern economic growth.

Heights in the twentieth century were much less susceptible to cyclical fluctuations than in prior epochs, except during the world wars. Markets in food products became better integrated, so that local shortages were alleviated quickly. Child labor declined or was entirely eliminated, freeing up calories for the biological growth process. Because food consumption became a much smaller fraction of family income, it was possible to protect one's nutritional intake from the effects of short-term income fluctuations. The stock of savings increased, so that the reliance on current income was less absolute than before. As a consequence, the impact on heights of even such a major downswing in economic activity as the Great Depression of the 1930s was hardly evident. In contrast, the downturn of the 1890s still had a noticeable impact on physical stature. In addition, government expenditures on welfare programs such as unemployment insurance increased, so that business cycles had a negligible impact on children's heights. For western Europeans the more equal distribution of income, and a social safety net that protects the lower classes from the adverse biological effects of poverty, may have tipped the biological standard of living in their favor relative to the United States. Hence political processes, too, had an effect on human biology through public expenditures on health, unemployment insurance, and welfare.

URBAN-RURAL AND REGIONAL DIFFERENCES

Town dwellers were invariably at a nutritional disadvantage in the preindustrial and early industrial world because they were farther from the source of food supply and, unlike the rural population, were not paying farm-gate prices for agricultural products. Instead, they paid for the costs of transporting food and for the services of the middlemen. Until the invention of refrigerated railroad cars and ships, transportation technology was not advanced enough to ship dairy products and fresh meat over long distances in sufficient quantities, and at low enough prices, to accommodate the biological needs of urban workers. A substantial urban health penalty has been found in widely separated early industrial cities studied such as London, Glasgow, Vienna, Charleston, Philadelphia, and Tokyo. For example, men born in Baltimore in the pre–Civil War era were 3.3 centimeters shorter, and women 1.5 centimeters shorter, than those born elsewhere in the state of Maryland.

The only exception to this generalization found so far is the case of Munich, whose inhabitants were not shorter than those living in the Bavarian countryside in the early nineteenth century. Munich was close enough to the Alps to be supplied with sufficient dairy products on a regular basis. Moreover, the presence of the king's court meant that a large segment of its population was composed of government employees whose income was exempt from cyclical variation. Most urban dwellers were not so lucky.

The above pattern also holds at the regional level: the populations of urbanized or industrialized regions such as New England, East Anglia, or Bohemia were shorter than those of agricultural regions. The accessibility to markets meant that farmers traded away nutrients, and therefore had shorter children, than those agricultural producers who were farther from markets. Prior to the transportation revolution, the availability of milk and meat at the local level had a positive independent effect on nutritional status. The higher income earned in early industrial regions generally did not suffice to offset the longer distances that these perishable products had to travel to reach the consumers.

The relationship between remoteness from markets and urbanization, on the one hand, and physical stature, on the other, changed completely with several social, political, and economic developments that began in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The beginning of massive public investments into social overhead capital, such as sewer systems and waterworks, meant that a higher degree of cleanliness could develop. Due to these improvements in public health and sanitation, the human organism was less exposed to endemic and epidemic infections. The decline in the cost of long-distance ocean shipping brought the productivity of the American prairies within the reach of Europeans. The invention of refrigerated ships and railroad cars enabled perishable agricultural products and fresh meat to be shipped over longer distances. Then, in the twentieth century, an increase in the number of doctors and a revolution in medical technology made possible by the unprecedented affluence of the West had a major impact on health and biological well-being in the developed world. For all these reasons, by the turn of the twentieth century, urbanites tended to be taller than their rural counterparts, in vivid contrast to the preindustrial and early industrial periods. This is the case in contemporary China as well.

Finally, regional variation in the epidemiological environment had a major impact on height before the twentieth century. Several studies have found a negative correlation between regions' crude death rates, or the infant mortality rates, and adult stature. For instance, men were particularly short in the malaria-infested parts of Murcia (a province of Spain), as were slaves in the disease-ridden rice-producing areas of South Carolina. Hence, prior to the twentieth century, when malaria was brought under control, irrigated agriculture had a negative impact on physical stature. High levels of population density also fostered the transmission of diseases. As noted above, there is some evidence that the increased trade and mobility associated with improved transportation, market integration, urbanization, and industrialization did so as well.

INCOME AND SOCIAL STATUS

In the preindustrial and early industrial periods there was an almost perfect positive correlation between physical stature and income or social status in cross-sectional analysis (figure 5). In the 1840s literate French soldiers were 1.4 centimeters taller than illiterate ones, for example. Aristocrats were taller than the middle class, who in turn were taller than the offspring of the lower classes. In fact, teenage gentry boys around 1800 were taller than the Oliver Twists of London by as much as 15 centimeters, probably the largest such social difference ever recorded. Orphans were also shorter than average: for a typical Slovak male, having his father die before he reached age thirty cost him almost 2 centimeters. However, losing one's mother did not have a significant influence on adult heights. Students were invariably taller than average because, until World War II, education tended to be a privilege rather than a political right. In the United States differences tended to be small by occupation, but slaves were shorter than their owners. No exception has been found to the generalization that in a given time period physical stature rose with income, as long as the groups compared grew up in the same region, faced with the same relative price of nutrients and exposed to the same disease environment.

Across geographic units, however, income did not always correlate positively with physical stature in the early industrial world. Higher income did not always compensate for the higher price of nutrients or higher population density that went hand in hand with economic development. Thus the Irish and Scottish tended to be taller than the English, even though they were poorer on average, and, similarly, Poles were taller than Austrians in the Habsburg monarchy. Bosnians and Serbs were more than 7 centimeters taller than Hungarians, and southerners in the United States were slightly taller than northerners. The tallest white males in the United States in the antebellum period were born in the most isolated states, such as Kentucky and Tennessee, and the shortest in the most advanced region, New England. The Indians of the American prairie were the tallest population on record in the middle of the nineteenth century. However, in the twentieth century the effect of income became more positive at the regional level as well, probably because regional price differences diminished, and the delivery of public health services also correlated positively with per capita income. In the developed world at the turn of the twenty-first century, only very slight differences in physical stature remain by social class, while in the Scandinavian and Dutch welfare states they have disappeared entirely.

GENDER AND FAMILY ISSUES

Before the twentieth century, evidence on the height of females is quite scarce because they were obviously less likely than males to be part of institutions that kept records on physical stature. However, two major sources of female heights of the early nineteenth century do exist—slave and criminal records. These provide conflicting pictures. Sometimes female heights exhibit different trends than male heights. In a couple of cases, females experienced a decline in their physical stature prior to that of males. This was true among the free blacks of Maryland and among Scottish convicts. On the other hand, female heights fell after male heights in early-nineteenth-century England. Some have argued that in times of economic stress boys would have received privileged treatment within the household economy at the expense of girls. However, an examination of the issue for the United Kingdom led Bernard Harris to conclude that it is not possible to infer any significant difference in the treatment of boys and girls from early-twentieth-century height data and that it is impossible to generalize about earlier periods as well. In general, female stature seems to react less dramatically than male stature to disease and nutritional deprivation; thus it is hard to make comparisons across gender.

Research has also examined the impact of adult height on social outcomes in a historical context. Robert Whaples's 1995 study of Slovak immigrants to the United States found that greater height was associated with earlier marriage. Probably because taller men were generally more economically productive and generally earned more, they were more attractive in the marriage market. For example, at age twenty-two, a 149-centimeter-tall Slovak immigrant had a 37 percent chance of being married, while one who was 188 centimeters tall had a 66 percent chance of being married. Likewise, Bavarian women below 150 centimeters were significantly less likely to be married.

CONCLUSION

The nature of human welfare, its components, and its measurement is a philosophical question as old as recorded history. A definitive answer will surely remain elusive. Efforts to supplement conventional economic indicators with biological ones go as far back as the mercantilist thinkers of the seventeenth century who used biological indicators such as population size and life expectancy to gauge the well-being of populations.

Research on the biological standard of living assumes that there is no single measure of well-being. To equate GDP per capita with the standard of living entails a large number of simplifications. Broader measures of well-being, including the Human Development Index, add considerable information to conventional income measures of human welfare—they can unveil the hidden costs as well as the neglected benefits of modernization. In the early phases of modern economic growth, income indexes generally overestimate growth in relation to broader measures of well-being—in the United States by as much as a factor of four. In the twentieth century, however, the reverse is the case. During the decade of the Great Depression, for instance, a Human Development Index for the United States grew twice as rapidly as per capita income. Thus, incorporating such indicators into indexes of well-being can change in fundamental ways our assessment of economic performance.

Because progress is never uniform in all dimensions of human existence, it is useful to supplement conventional indicators of well-being with other measures, including biological indicators. The anthropometric history written at the end of the twentieth century has led to an expanded knowledge of welfare since the eighteenth century. It is now known that the common men and women in many regions of early industrial Europe and North America were, in some ways, worse off than their parents. There was some divergence between their living standard, as conventionally defined, and their biological well-being. The human organism did not always thrive as well in its newly created socioeconomic environment as one might be led to believe on the basis of purchasing power at the aggregate level. According to Steckel and Floud, countries that industrialized and urbanized before the development of the germ theory and public health measures paid a biological penalty.

More careful research is needed to supplement traditional income measures with new indexes, as well as additional investigation of the Human Development Index and its components, particularly on the "noneconomic" aspects of life, both at the theoretical and empirical levels. Though there will be no easy answers, documenting the biological attributes of human beings seems to be a promising way to proceed. As Stanley Engerman suggests, "Given the difficulties in finding an answer to any basic question of differential welfare, perhaps our best strategy is to accept the specific value of particular indicators for answering particular questions but also remain aware of the complexity of the multitude of factors that makes these examinations so difficult and generalization so uncertain" (1997, p. 39). Thus far, anthropometric history affords a much more nuanced view of the welfare of the populations living through the rapid structural changes accompanying two and a half centuries of industrialization.

See alsoRacism (volume 1);Standards of Living (volume 5); and other articles in this section.

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