Anthropometric history and the measurement of wellbeing

Harris, Bernard (2021) Anthropometric history and the measurement of wellbeing. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 19. ISSN 1728-5305

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    It has often been recognised that the average height of a population is influenced by the economic and environmental conditions in which its finds itself, and this has inspired a generation of historians to use anthropometric data to investigate the health and wellbeing of past populations. This paper reviews some of the main developments in the field and assesses the extent to which height remains a viable measure of historical wellbeing. It explores a number of different issues, including the nature of human growth, the impact of variations in diet and exposure to disease, the role of ethnicity, the relationships between height, mortality and labour productivity, and the 'social value' of human stature. It concludes that, despite certain caveats, height has retained its capacity to act as a 'mirror' on the condition of past societies and the wellbeing of their members.

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