, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 647-669

Adult height and childhood disease

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Taller populations are typically richer populations, and taller individuals live longer and earn more. In consequence, adult height has recently become a focus in understanding the relationship between health and wealth. We investigate the childhood determinants of population adult height, focusing on the respective roles of income and of disease. Across a range of European countries and the United States, we find a strong inverse relationship between postneonatal (ages 1 month to 1 year) mortality, interpreted as a measure of the disease and nutritional burden in childhood, and the mean height of those children as adults. Consistent with these findings, we develop a model of selection and stunting in which the early-life burden of undernutrition and disease not only is responsible for mortality in childhood but also leaves a residue of long-term health risks for survivors, risks that express themselves in adult height and in late-life disease. The model predicts that at sufficiently high mortality levels, selection can dominate scarring, leaving a taller population of survivors. We find evidence of this effect in the poorest and highest-mortality countries of the world, supplementing recent findings on the effects of the Great Chinese Famine.