Nutrition, the Biological Standard of Living, and Cliometrics

  • Lee A. CraigEmail author
Reference work entry


In much of the world today, populations are richer, taller, and enjoy longer healthier lives than their counterparts in the past. Cliometricians debate the extent to which this “health transition” was the result of nutritional improvements or other factors, such as the increase in public health infrastructure that followed mastery of the germ theory of disease. Although the long-run trend in health was positive, in the nineteenth century, many Western countries experienced cyclical downturns in the biological standard of living, the so-called antebellum puzzle. While the long-run trends in the growth of real GDP, income, and wages were positive, as the presence of the antebellum puzzle suggests, the onset of industrialization was accompanied by an increase in inequality, the stagnation of the expectation of life at birth, increases in morbidity, declines in mean adult stature, and an erosion in the consumption of net nutrients. Taken together, this experience has been labeled the “Malthusian squeeze.”


Nutrition Standard of living Stature Mortality Morbidity Obesity 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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