American Political Science Review

Research Article

Bones of Contention: The Political Economy of Height Inequality


a1 Princeton University

a2 Yale University


Human osteological data provide a rich, still-to-be-mined source of information about the distribution of nutrition and, by extension, the distribution of political power and economic wealth in societies of long ago. On the basis of data we have collected and analyzed on societies ranging from foraging communities to the ancient Egyptian and modern European monarchies, we find that the shift from hunting and gathering to complex fishing techniques and to labor-intensive agriculture opened up inequalities that had discernible effects on human health and stature. But we also find that political institutions intervened decisively in the distribution of resources within societies. Political institutions appear to be shaped not only by economic factors but also by military technology and vulnerability to invasion.


c1 Carles Boix is Robert Garrett Professor of Politics and Public Affairs, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 (

c2 Frances Rosenbluth is Damon Wells Professor of Political Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511 (


  Carles Boix thanks the Barcelona Institute for Political Economy and Governance for its financial support. In addition, we have incurred many debts of gratitude in undertaking this project. Gary Aronson and Rose Drew provided hands-on instruction on skeletal identification and measurement, and Rose Drew made trips to the Duckworth Collection at Cambridge and the Tirup Collection in Denmark to measure countless bones. For access to their data, we thank Joerg Baten, Jesper Boldsen, Chryssa Bourbou, Richard L. Jantz, Spencer Clark Larsen, Jurek Kozak, Takahiro Nakahashi, Donald Ortner, Richard Steckel, and Yasuhiro Yamada. For advice on measurement and interpretation and for suggestions on where to find more data, we are grateful to Melvin Ember, Sherry Fox, Trenton Holliday, Iain McLean, Mary Miller, John Murray, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Aleks Pluskowski, Charlotte Roberts, Laura Sinfield, Malcolm Smith, Jay Stockton, Judith Sture, Gen Suwa, Thomas Tartaron, Anastasia Tsaliki, and John Verano. For able research assistance, including tracking down data sources and in some cases measuring bones, we thank Sheena Arackwal, Sajid Ghani, Tess McCann, Lin Nie, Meghan Palmer, Nathaniel Smith, Teruo Utsumi, Shiru Wang, and Maxim Wilson. Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2004 American Political Science Association meeting and in Princeton University's Political Institutions and Economic Policy Workshop, May 2005. We would like thank the participants, especially Jeffrey Frieden, David Laitin, and Ron Rogowski, for their comments.