Socioeconomic differences in height among young men in southern Sweden, 1818-1968

Stefan Öberg, University of Gothenburg

Socioeconomic differences in heights have been investigated and found in many studies on different populations and historical periods. Despite the large number of studies there are few where it has been possible to study the long-term developments of the differences. I have linked information from conscript inspection lists to men born between 1797 and 1950 in the Scanian Economic Demographic Database. This is a longitudinal database on the population in five rural parishes in southern Sweden including all demographic events as well as information on occupations and landholding. I can therefore analyze the socioeconomic differences in heights in the whole population dividing the men into classes using their family backgrounds. Because family relations are known I can also adjust the analyses to better compare the differences between families. The long time period covered makes it possible to investigate how the social differences in heights changed as the society and economy developed from the pre-industrial, agrarian setting in the early 19th century to the modern industrialized society in the mid-20th century. The results show that there were always socioeconomic differences in heights in the studied population. Sons of fathers with non-manual occupations were always taller and were the group most clearly separable from the others at all times. Farmers were also taller than manual workers but the difference is smaller and not as consistent. The level of skill of the father did not have a large impact on the heights of the sons, except in the first decades of the 20th century. The results indicate a Kuznetsian development of the inequalities in heights with temporarily increasing differences in the early 20th century. The socioeconomic differences did not decline consistently until mid-20th century. But declining explanatory power of the socioeconomic indicators throughout points to reduced importance of the differences over time.

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Presented in Session 66: Longevity and historical analysis