What Has Happened to the Quality of Life in the Advanced Industrialized Nations?

What Has Happened to the Quality of Life in the Advanced Industrialized Nations?

Edited by Edward N. Wolff

The contributors to this volume investigate to what extent welfare has increased in the United States over the postwar period and provide a rigorous examination of both conventional measures of the standard of living, as well as more inclusive indices. The chapters cover such topics as: race, home ownership and family structure; the status of children; the consumer price index; a historical perspective on the standard of living; worker rights and labor strength in advanced economies. In addition, they explore two economic systems delivering the goods – the free enterprise system of the United States and the European social welfare state. They then present international comparisons and highlight the relative advantages and disadvantages of these two systems.

Chapter 9: Historical Perspective on the Standard of Living Using Anthropometric Data

Richard H. Steckel

Subjects: economics and finance, welfare economics, politics and public policy, public policy, social policy and sociology, sociology and sociological theory


Richard H. Steckel INTRODUCTION Long-standing scholarly attempts to define and measure the standard of living eventually led to the national income and product accounts of the twentieth century. Although economists recognize the great achievements of the accounts, research momentum has shifted to alternatives or supplements that address shortcomings in GDP as a welfare measure or indicate living standards in time periods or among groups for which conventional measures cannot be calculated. Stature is an example now used extensively in the fields of economic history and economic development. Readers unfamiliar with anthropometric history should not be sidetracked by genetic issues. Genes are important determinants of individual heights, but genetic differences approximately cancel in comparisons of averages across most populations, and in these situations height accurately reflects health status. Many studies show that measures of health are positively correlated with income or wealth. Less well known are the relationship between stature and conventional measures, such as per capita income, and the ways that stature addresses certain conceptual inadequacies in gross national product as a measure of human welfare. Stature adeptly measures inequality in the form of nutritional deprivation; average height in the past century is sensitive not only to the level of income but also to the distribution of income and the consumption of basic necessities by the poor. Unlike conventional measures of living standards based on output, stature is a measure of consumption that incorporates or adjusts for individual nutritional needs; it is a net measure that captures...

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