Students Staff

02 September 2013

Walking tall a century on

Colchester Campus

The average height of European males has increased by 11cm in just over a century, according to research involving the University of Essex.

Contrary to expectations, the study also revealed that average height actually accelerated in the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.

In the study, published in the journal Oxford Economic Papers, Professor Timothy Hatton, from the Department of Economics at the University of Essex and the Research School of Economics at Australian National University in Canberra, examined and analysed a new dataset for the average height (at the age of around 21) of adult male birth cohorts, from the 1870s to 1980, in 15 European countries. The data is for men only as the historical evidence for women’s heights is very 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 thousand in 1871-5 to 120 per thousand in 1911-15. They then plummeted to 41 in 1951-5 and 14 in 1976-80.

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. 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.

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.


Note to editors:

For further information, or to speak to Professor Timothy Hatton, please contact:
Kirsty Doole, Publicity Manager, Oxford Journals
E-mail: or telephone: 01865 355439 or 07557163098.

Oxford Economic Papers is a general economics journal, publishing refereed papers in economic theory, applied economics, econometrics, economic development, economic history, and the history of economic thought. Oxford Economic Papers is published by Oxford University Press.


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