Tall Story?

We learned in 2003 that Europeans are taller than Americans, and the gap is getting bigger.

From the Tallest to (One of) the Fattest: The Enigmatic Fate of the American Population in the 20th Century
John Komlos & Marieluise Baur
Within the course of the 20th century the American population went through a metamorphosis from being the tallest in the world, to being among the most overweight. The American height advantage over Western and Northern Europeans was between 3 and 9 cm in the middle of the 19th century. Americans were also underweight. However, today, the exact opposite is the case as the Dutch, Swedes, and Norwegians are the tallest, and the Danes, British and Germans – even the East-Germans – are also taller, towering over the Americans by as much as 3-7 cm. Americans also live shorter. The hypothesis is worth considering that this adverse development is related to the greater social inequality, an inferior health-care system, and fewer social safety nets in the United States than in Western and Northern Europe, in spite of higher per capita income. The West- and Northern European welfare states, with cradle to grave health and unemployment insurance currently provide a more propitious environment for the biological standard of living than its US counterpart.

This month, an American study has suggested that taller people may be smarter.

Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes
Anne Case, Christina Paxson
It has long been recognized that taller adults hold jobs of higher status and, on average, earn more than other workers. A large number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the association between height and earnings. In developed countries, researchers have emphasized factors such as self esteem, social dominance, and discrimination. In this paper, we offer a simpler explanation: On average, taller people earn more because they are smarter. As early as age 3 — before schooling has had a chance to play a role — and throughout childhood, taller children perform significantly better on cognitive tests. The correlation between height in childhood and adulthood is approximately 0.7 for both men and women, so that tall children are much more likely to become tall adults. As adults, taller individuals are more likely to select into higher paying occupations that require more advanced verbal and numerical skills and greater intelligence, for which they earn handsome returns. Using four data sets from the US and the UK, we find that the height premium in adult earnings can be explained by childhood scores on cognitive tests. Furthermore, we show that taller adults select into occupations that have higher cognitive skill requirements and lower physical skill demands.

So, does this mean that Europeans are getting smarter than Americans?

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3 Responses to Tall Story?

  1. Americans also live shorter

    and they complain about the writing skills of kids.

  2. I seem to remember that height is about nutrition, and to a lesser extent healthcare, and especially during pregnancy and earlier childhood.

  3. lesleym says:

    Haven’t got the link any longer, but IIRC Anglo-Saxons of the 11th century were taller than any of their decendants today.
    There is an interesting if not well documented survey of average heights over historical periods
    here.

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