Adult body height as a mediator between early-life conditions and socio-economic status: The case of the Dutch Potato Famine, 1846–1847

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Adult body height appears to be a relatively accurate summary variable of early-life exposures’ influence on health, and may be a useful indicator of health in populations where more traditional health-related indicators are lacking. In particular, previous studies have shown a strong, positive relationship between environmental conditions in early life (particularly nutritional availability and the disease environment)and adult height. Research has also demonstrated positive associations between height and socioeconomic status. We therefore hypothesize that height mediates the relationship between early-life conditions and later-life socio-economic outcomes. We also hypothesize that the period of exposure in early life matters, and that conditions during pregnancy or the first years of life and/or the years during puberty have the largest effects on height and socio-economic status. To test these relationships, we use a sample of 1817 Dutch military conscripts who were exposed during early life to the Dutch Potato Famine (1846–1847). We conduct mediation analyses using structural equation modelling, and test seven different time periods in early-life. We use potato prices and real wages to proxy early-life environmental conditions, and occupational status (using the HISCAM scale)to proxy socioeconomic status. We find no evidence of mediation, partial or full, in any models. However, there are significant relationships between potato prices in adolescence, height and socio-economic status. To determine causality in these relationships, further research is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Volume34
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

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Body Height
Solanum tuberosum
Starvation
Economics
mediation
environmental factors
social status
health
conscript
economics
real wages
puberty
occupational status
causality
adolescence
pregnancy
Military
Proxy
Disease
Social Class

Keywords

  • Critical period
  • Early-life conditions
  • Famine
  • Height
  • Netherlands
  • Socio-economic status

Cite this

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title = "Adult body height as a mediator between early-life conditions and socio-economic status: The case of the Dutch Potato Famine, 1846–1847",
abstract = "Adult body height appears to be a relatively accurate summary variable of early-life exposures’ influence on health, and may be a useful indicator of health in populations where more traditional health-related indicators are lacking. In particular, previous studies have shown a strong, positive relationship between environmental conditions in early life (particularly nutritional availability and the disease environment)and adult height. Research has also demonstrated positive associations between height and socioeconomic status. We therefore hypothesize that height mediates the relationship between early-life conditions and later-life socio-economic outcomes. We also hypothesize that the period of exposure in early life matters, and that conditions during pregnancy or the first years of life and/or the years during puberty have the largest effects on height and socio-economic status. To test these relationships, we use a sample of 1817 Dutch military conscripts who were exposed during early life to the Dutch Potato Famine (1846–1847). We conduct mediation analyses using structural equation modelling, and test seven different time periods in early-life. We use potato prices and real wages to proxy early-life environmental conditions, and occupational status (using the HISCAM scale)to proxy socioeconomic status. We find no evidence of mediation, partial or full, in any models. However, there are significant relationships between potato prices in adolescence, height and socio-economic status. To determine causality in these relationships, further research is needed.",
keywords = "Critical period, Early-life conditions, Famine, Height, Netherlands, Socio-economic status",
author = "Kristina Thompson and Maarten Lindeboom and France Portrait",
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T1 - Adult body height as a mediator between early-life conditions and socio-economic status

T2 - The case of the Dutch Potato Famine, 1846–1847

AU - Thompson, Kristina

AU - Lindeboom, Maarten

AU - Portrait, France

PY - 2019

Y1 - 2019

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AB - Adult body height appears to be a relatively accurate summary variable of early-life exposures’ influence on health, and may be a useful indicator of health in populations where more traditional health-related indicators are lacking. In particular, previous studies have shown a strong, positive relationship between environmental conditions in early life (particularly nutritional availability and the disease environment)and adult height. Research has also demonstrated positive associations between height and socioeconomic status. We therefore hypothesize that height mediates the relationship between early-life conditions and later-life socio-economic outcomes. We also hypothesize that the period of exposure in early life matters, and that conditions during pregnancy or the first years of life and/or the years during puberty have the largest effects on height and socio-economic status. To test these relationships, we use a sample of 1817 Dutch military conscripts who were exposed during early life to the Dutch Potato Famine (1846–1847). We conduct mediation analyses using structural equation modelling, and test seven different time periods in early-life. We use potato prices and real wages to proxy early-life environmental conditions, and occupational status (using the HISCAM scale)to proxy socioeconomic status. We find no evidence of mediation, partial or full, in any models. However, there are significant relationships between potato prices in adolescence, height and socio-economic status. To determine causality in these relationships, further research is needed.

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