60-Second Science

European Men Experienced Century-Plus Growth Spurt

During the century-and-a-third ending in 1980 (the period under study) the average height of European men increased by about 11 centimeters. Sophie Bushwick reports.

We already know human populations can get taller over time. But a new study shows just how extreme this growth spurt can be.

Economic historian Timothy Hatton, of the University of Essex and Australian National University, examined height changes in a relatively short time period and small geographical region. His data sample consisted of adult males around 21 years old, who were born in 15 European countries between 1856 and 1980. The study is published in Oxford Economic Papers. [Timothy J. Hatton, How Have Europeans Grown So Tall?]

Over the century-and-a-third, average height increased by about 11 centimeters, a good half-a-head. But why? According to Hatton, improvements in sanitation and housing reduced infant mortality and childhood diseases. The result was healthier and thus taller children. Other factors included increased wealth, education and social and health programs. Smaller families, which ensured that each child had more to eat, may have played a role as well.

In general, a taller population is a marker for better health. So congratulations, Europe—keep living large.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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