Stature, Nutrition, Health, and Economic Growth

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Title: Stature, Nutrition, Health, and Economic Growth
Author: Treme, Julianne
Advisors: Lee Craig, Committee Chair
Thomas Grennes, Committee Member
Mitch Renkow, Committee Member
Barry Goodwin, Committee Member
Abstract: Historically, scholars of economic growth have focused almost exclusively on aggregate output or income as a way to assess the standard of living in a society. The purpose of this dissertation is to supplement and challenge this methodology by using evidence of the biological standard of living to measure the physiological adjustments of human populations to changes in the economic climate. Human stature captures the biological costs and benefits of economic activity, and as such, it serves as a primary indicator of the biological standard of living. When approximated by output and income alone, the standard of living in society appears to steadily improve over time. Human stature offers a different picture though, fluctuating through time even as incomes rise, implying that the general increase of incomes came at the expense of both health and nutrition and ultimately height. The divergence between economic and biological indicators reveals the importance of representing economies both by material and physical measures: a reflection of both purchasing power and health. This dissertation uses stature to approximate income and estimate the health effects of economic fluctuations. It begins by using an innovative estimation technique to generate per capita GDP growth rates and identifies several undocumented growth episodes in Colonial America. The results of this chapter suggest that early growth rates were higher than previous estimates indicate. It then shifts focus to the regional growth pattern of stature over the nineteenth-century United States, exploring changes in human welfare associated with the convergence of stature as reflected by the gap between short and tall populations. The results imply that human welfare did not improve for large segments of the population until the last two decades of the century and in fact, the physical costs associated with economic activity overwhelmed the physical benefits for much of the century. The United States experienced a period of divergence in heights across regions, before they began to converge at the end of the century. It ends with the global exploration of the impact of economic and health variables on stature in the nineteenth century, finding that Gross Domestic Product and urbanization effects varied across countries. GDP and height were actually negatively correlated in several countries, implying that GDP increases were spent in large part on unhealthy purchases, or that the negative externalities of growth overwhelmed the positive ones.
Date: 2006-12-11
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Economics

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