Men grow four inches in 100 years
Researchers found the average height of European men has grown by 11 centimetres in just over a century.
Between the mid-nineteenth century and 1980, the height of men in Britain rose from 166cm (5ft 4in) to 177cm (5ft 8in).
And, contrary to expectations, the study also found that average height actually accelerated in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.
Timothy Hatton, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex, examined and analysed figures for the average height – at the age of around 21 – of men from the 1870s to 1980 in 15 European countries.
The statistics were drawn from a variety of sources. For the most recent decades the data was mainly taken from height-by-age in surveys. Figures for the earlier years were based on data for the heights of military conscripts and recruits. The figures are for men only as the historical evidence for women’s heights is severely limited.
Professor Hatton said: “Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations.
“The evidence suggests that the improving disease environment, as reflected in the fall in infant mortality, is the single most important factor driving the increase in height.
“The link between infant mortality and height has already been demonstrated by a number of studies.”
Infant mortality rates fell from an average of 178 per 1,000 in the period from 1871 to 1875 to 120 per 1,000 in 1911 to 1915. They then plummeted to 41 in 1951 to 1955 and just 14 from 1976 to 1980.
Prof Hatton said that in northern and middle European countries – including Britain and Ireland, the Scandinavian countries, Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, and Germany – there was a “distinct quickening” in the pace of advance in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.
He added: “This is striking because the period largely predates the wide implementation of major breakthroughs in modern medicine and national health services.
“One possible reason, alongside the crucial decline in infant mortality, for the rapid growth of average male height in this period was that there was a strong downward trend in fertility at the time, and smaller family sizes have already been linked with increasing height.”
He said other factors in the increase in average male height include an increased income per capita; more sanitary housing and living conditions; better general education about health and nutrition which led to better care for children and young people within the home; and better social services and health systems.
The findings were published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers.