Over the past thirty years, a new breed of “anthropometric historians” has tracked how populations around the world have changed in stature. Height, they’ve concluded, is a kind of biological shorthand: a composite code for all the factors that make up a society’s well-being. Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations are mostly environmental, anthropometric history suggests. If Joe is taller than Jack, it’s probably because his parents are taller. But if the average Norwegian is taller than the average Nigerian it’s because Norwegians live healthier lives. That’s why the United Nations now uses height to monitor nutrition in developing countries. In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health-care coverage. In our height lies our history.
Burkhard Bilger takes a look at how our heights show our levels of economic prosperity, with fascinating rambles into World War Two refugees, slavery in the USA, Van Gogh in Holland and the French Revolution. At The New Yorker.