IT WAS AN unexpected result but researchers in England and Australia have confirmed that the average height of European men increased by 11 centimetres between the mid-1800s and 1980.
In a new paper, published this week in the Oxford Economic Papers, economics experts reveal that the average height of males also accelerated – surprisingly – during the period spanning the two World Wars and the Great Depression.
Team leader Professor Timothy Hatton of the University of Essex and the National University of Canberra explains that the evidence collected 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”.
“Increases in human stature are a key indicator of improvements in the average health of populations,” he added, noting that the link between infant mortality and height has already been demonstrated in a number of studies.
Decreasing family sizes have also been linked with increasing height, as has an increased income per capita, cleaner homes, better living conditions, education about health and nutrition and established health systems.
In Ireland (as well as Britain, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Germany), there was a “distinct quickening” in the increase of average height during 1910 and 1945 despite the fact that the period predates major breakthroughs in modern medicine and national health services.
The data used in the study was taken from a variety of sources, including information on military conscripts and recruits and cross-sectional surveys from recent decades. The researchers used a new dataset for the average height – at the age of 21 – of adult male births from the 1870s to 1980 in 15 European countries. Data on women was not analysed as the historical evidence is severely limited.