Height: The Most Important Change in Human History?
We've grown taller over the centuries—and a Nobel Prize-winning economist says technology, not evolution, explains why
Robert Fogel, winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, has a new book coming out arguing, according to an account in The New York Times, that gains in human height constitute "the most significant development in humanity's long history."
Fogel and his co-authors attribute the gain in height to gains in technology:
This "technophysio evolution," powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of Homo sapiens as well.
Here's the evidence:
But I'm confused by this. I thought people were taller before the agricultural revolution of 12,000 years ago or so, and that the recent gains were due to better nutrition and sanitation measures--not to gains in technology.
I'm particularly confused because of the recent study demonstrating reductions in height among women in 54 low-income countries. This study concludes:
Socioeconomic inequalities in height remain persistent. Height has stagnated or declined over the last decades in low- to middle-income countries, particularly in Africa, suggesting worsening nutritional and environmental circumstances during childhood.
In other words, if you want to do something about height disparities, you have to fix income disparities and provide adequate food and clean drinking water.
This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters