Friday, June 15, 2007

Mind the Stature Gap

Paul Krugman just flew in from Europe - and, boy, are his arms tired. While there, he noticed that everyone was taller then him. In his NY Times column today, he wrote about the disparity between the US and Europe in average height:
The data show that Americans, who in the words of a recent paper by the economic historian John Komlos and Benjamin Lauderdale in Social Science Quarterly, were “tallest in the world between colonial times and the middle of the 20th century,” have now “become shorter (and fatter) than Western and Northern Europeans. In fact, the U.S. population is currently at the bottom end of the height distribution in advanced industrial countries.”

This is not a trivial matter. As the paper says, “height is indicative of how well the human organism thrives in its socioeconomic environment.” There’s a whole discipline of “anthropometric history” that uses evidence on heights to assess changes in social conditions...

There is normally a strong association between per capita income and a country’s average height. By that standard, Americans should be taller than Europeans: U.S. per capita G.D.P. is higher than that of any other major economy. But since the middle of the 20th century, something has caused Americans to grow richer without growing significantly taller.

If nothing else, this is a good reminder of how flawed per capita GDP is an indicator of well-being. If you don't have access to the full column through TimesSelect, you can find a more extensive excerpt at Economist's View.


Post a Comment

<< Home