European Review of Economic History

The biological standard of living in Europe during the last two millennia

a1 University of Tuebingen, Department of Economic History, Mohlstraße 36, D-72074 Tübingen, Germany

Article author query
koepke n   [Google Scholar] 
baten j   [Google Scholar] 


This study offers the first anthropometric estimates of the biological standard of living in Europe during the first millennium AD, and extends the literature on the second millennium. The overall picture drawn from our data is one of stagnant heights. There was no large-scale progress in European nutritional status over the period studied, not even for the period between 1000 and 1800, for which recent GDP per capita estimates indicate increasing development. We find that heights stagnated in Central, Western and Southern Europe during the Roman imperial period, while astonishingly increasing in the fifth and sixth centuries. Noteworthy also is the similarity of height development in the three large regions of Europe. In an exploratory regression analysis of height determinants, population density turns out to have been an economically (not statistically) significant and negative factor, indicating the relevance of decreasing marginal product theories and Malthusian theory for the pre-1800 period. Of marginal significance, however, were climate (warmer temperatures being favourable for a good nutritional status), social inequality and gender inequality (both reducing average height). Lastly, we also discuss the limitations of our approach.