The Causes and Consequences of Catch-up Growth: The Case of Maastricht, 1834-1843

Björn Quanjer, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Kristina Thompson, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Mayra Murkens, Maastricht University

Conscription records are considered to be the ‘gold standard’ in studying heights in historical populations, but they pose a distinct problem: when conscripts are measured, they are typically around 20 years old. With puberty experienced later pre-demographic transition, this likely means that many conscripts had not yet reached their adult heights, with this delayed growth termed ‘catch-up growth’ (Beekink & Kok, 2017). Conscription records may therefore display an increase in average heights over the nineteenth century, when it is in fact a shift of pubertal growth toward younger ages. This raises our first research question: is the rise in statures that occurred in much of the western world, known as the secular growth trend, overestimated? Complicating matters is height’s widely-accepted use as an indicator of health (e.g. Deaton, 2007). On the one hand, increased height is thought to lead to longer lifespans (e.g. Ihira et al., 2018). On the other, catch-up growth is thought to incur a later-life ‘health penalty’, resulting in earlier death (Barker et al., 2002). Boys that experienced strong catch-up growth might experience death that is clustered around certain diseases. Our second research question is thus: to what extent is height a predictor of (cause-specific) mortality, and what role does catch-up growth play in this relationship? To disentangle the causes and consequences of catch-up growth, we link conscription records (with height measurements at age 19 or 20) to civil militia records (schutterijregisters), in which boys were measured when they were 25 years old. Then, we exploit a cause-specific mortality dataset, to understand if there are different lifespans for those of different heights, and if catch-up growth plays a role for cause-specific mortality clustering as well. We focus our research on the city of Maastricht, birth years 1834 through 1843.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 255. Heights and health in 19th and 20th centuries