Skip to content

Worstall Indicator of Economic Development

If the poor are taller than their parents then it’s happening.

16 thoughts on “Worstall Indicator of Economic Development”

  1. Anecdotally, I have noticed this with the children and grandchildren of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the India subcontinent. Oftentimes a full foot taller than their parents/grandparents. Given my own ancestry being from both, and my relatively short stature, perhaps it is not universal.

  2. Indeed – the absence of childhood stunting doesn’t change the underlying genetics – it just allows those genetics full expression.

  3. I wonder what sort of outlier Japan is. When I was there for the World Cup, I was astonished about how tall and strapping many of their youth were compared to their parents. I put it down to having access to more meat.

    This phenomenon was brought home very clearly during the Great War, when Canadians, Aussies (even first generationers) and eventually Yanks arrived and were considerably larger and stronger than their British (and French) counterparts.

  4. I remember seeing a photo of three generations of Japanese women some time around 2000. The grandmother was born pre-WW2 and was maybe 4′ 6″, the mother immediately post war and about 5′, the granddaughter mid 70s and 6′.

  5. When I was in Japan for several months in the late ‘70s the generations were layered. Men born around 1900 seemed to be about 5’4’; the WW2 generations was 5’6”, and the post war generation a bit taller. I’m 5’8” and there were few Japanese taller than me at the time. I could peek over a sea of heads on a subway. I was also at the maximum height where I wasn’t constantly cracking my head walking through the doors of old buildings. Now I go to Hawaii on vacation and it’s not unusual to see young Japanese tourists topping 6’. It’s the same in the US, though not as pronounced, but there are few American women my age taller than me but plenty of millennial gals who tower above.

  6. When we first went to live in Oz my wife noticed that it was Aussie women who were taller than British – there was much less effect for the men.

    She suggested that a society that could feed even girls well must be rich.

  7. On t’other hand the Dutch have shot up since my youth and I’ve never really seen a plausible explanation.

    In WW1 they were pretty well fed – neutrals. In WW2 they were eventually starved. And yet, boom!, by the end of the 20th century their young men were walking skyscrapers. Why?

  8. Bloke in North Dorset

    South Korea, well at least Seoul, is another country with distinct generational heights.

    It is even more striking when you see them compared to the odd North Korean defector.

  9. South Korea is a prime example of what Tim is implying. Wealth and comfortable living are relatively recent there and of course North Korea is Mordor.

  10. Yet Another Chris

    I’ve been to both India and South Korea – for work. I’m 5’8” and in India I was taller than most, except Sikhs. I guess this is because the average diet is mostly vegetarian. There were some pretty skinny people around in India. There was one girl at one of my talks who had the thinnest arms I’ve ever seen, but many of the people I met looked like skeletons compared to me as a ‘rostbif’.
    In South Korea (Seoul), I was with a six-foot colleague and he towered above most. I was merely average, or maybe just above. The diet there seemed to be pretty good – compared to India – but noodles were a big part of diets, apparently. My colleague and I tried some and we were hungry again within an hour!
    My conclusion from these visits, and others, was that diet is a big part of physique. However, the height of your parents also counts, as does their nutrition. My dad was born in 1906 to a working class family. He was 5’6”. My mother was born in 1920 – working class – and she was 5’2”. Both suffered from poor diets growing up, as you might expect. I was born in 1949 and I still have my ID and ration cards. So my early diet was not the best.
    So it’s parents and diet, I’ve concluded. I think, perhaps, the old formula applies for a male: the heights of parents added and divided by two plus four inches. (Minus four inches for female? I can’t remember.)

  11. Some more anecdata: I’ve just looked through some old photos from the ’80s and my Japanese then-girlfriend stood up to my eye-line when I was 5′ 11 3/4″. My Hong Kong nephews born in the ’80s are half Japanese and are a good head shorter than me – though that could be from being twins, environmental effects from sharing a womb.

  12. @Dearieme. The dutch the same principle actually…

    Pre-wars most dutch were actually pretty poor and malnourished. Post-war things built up rapidly, but Meat… well.. Even in the 70’s having a rabbit pen was common in the cities, and potatoes still made up the bulk of your food…
    It’s just from about the mid-80’s that Furrin’ Stuff really became common and diet really changed.

    But honestly, that’s not that different from other nations around us, so that can’t quite be it.

    My best bet is that us cloggies have always been serious out-breeders, and simply ended up with the genetic combination for “tall and devastatingly handsome” overall.
    If I look at myself back 4 generations, I am as dutch/germanic as they come, but actually a slavic/danish/german/frysian crossed with a yorkish/frysian/german(different part)/belgian mother. My mother’s family name is as english as they come. Mine is german.
    And in that respect my ancestry is quite common here…

    If you look at the inbred people of “exclusive” Holland’s heritage, they tend to be shortarses like the rest of the world. Even though they historically have always had the better diet.
    Same as brabanders and other areas that have always been hot to “keep it in the family/village”.

  13. Epigenetics
    Some sort of compensatory mechanism. There are a couple of books about it. (One if them is very boring and badly written so I’m not going to recommend.)
    The “hunger winter” in Netherlands created a spike in size. Weirdly it has continued for two generations, but IIUC researchers are expecting the coming generation to be, on average, shorter than their parents.
    Being very tall is not much of an evolutionary advantage, and tall people tend to die a bit younger. The same goes for short people. Being average is the sweet spot.

  14. Can’t be the hunger winter.. Just one winter, and the situation here in Clogland was about the same as in a lot of Germany. Especially around what was left of the big cities ( and guess where a significant fraction of dutch males were, thanks to the lovely Arbeitseinsatz….). Same for the “Correctional Camps” and a fair number of other places…
    Directly post-war the situation wasn’t too dissimilar either, if anything the germans got the better deal out of it..

    If it was a matter of short, sharp, near-starvation, followed by a “period of plenty” a tallness spike should have happened in Germany as well, along within certain jewish families, and…. regardless of underlying (epi)genetics.

  15. Well… This one has the numbers: https://www.worlddata.info/average-bodyheight.php

    The most interesting thing about it is the accompanying text, which states that there’s a been a marked global increase in height since the beginning of the 20thC.
    And that overall the dutch aren’t even the winners in the race to tallness.
    Korean women gained 20 cm average… Given that they are generally tiny to begin with, the percentual gain is..extreme..

    But given that the increase is global over a long period of time, I can only assume our host is right, and that the root cause indeed must be sought in increased prosperity over a wide range of socio-economic markers.

    Incidentally… scroll down to the bottom of the page, and witness the official listings of the Other Measures of Hypothetical Importance… 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *