, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 161-187
Date: 18 Oct 2012

Health, market integration, and the urban height penalty in the US, 1847–1894

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This study analyzes trends and determinants of the height of men born in the 100 largest American urban areas during the second half of the nineteenth century and compares them with heights of the rural population. In this sample of 21,704 US Army recruits, there is an urban height penalty of up to 0.58 in. (1.5 cm). An increment in urban population of 100,000 is associated with a height decrease of about 0.31 in. (0.8 cm). Urban heights declined after 1855 followed by stagnation until the early 1890s, whereas rural heights stagnated from the late 1840s until 1885. Urban recruits from the northeast were 0.46 in. (1.2 cm) shorter than urban Midwestern recruits. There is some evidence of a height convergence between large and small cities toward the end of the century and of an inverted U-shaped relationship between height and city size. Urban heights were positively correlated with the extent of the railroad network, the real wage rate in the manufacturing sector, and high socioeconomic status, while they were negatively correlated with the death rate, and the percentage of the city’s population employed in manufacturing.