Edited by Edward N. Wolff
Chapter 9: Historical Perspective on the Standard of Living Using Anthropometric Data
9. Historical perspective on the standard of living using anthropometric data 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...
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