Ageing and Society

Growing Taller, Living Longer? Anthropometric History and the Future of Old Age

a1 Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK


In recent years, economic and social historians have made increasing use of anthropometric records (principally, records of human height and weight) to investigate changes in human health and well-being. This paper summarises some of the main findings of this research and demonstrates the remarkable increases in human height which have occurred during the course of the present century. The paper also examines the relationship between changes in average height and changes in life expectancy. Although most of the evidence assembled by anthropometric historians has been derived from records relating to schoolchildren and young adults, their work has profound implications for the study of health in old age. The concluding section examines the relevance of this work to current debates on the decline of mortality, the ‘compression of morbidity’ and the future of social policy.

Key Words: Anthropometry; health; height; old age; longevity.