Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-wfvfs Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-09T15:09:06.477Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Bones of Contention: The Political Economy of Height Inequality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 November 2013

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


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Allen, Robert C. 2003. “Progress and Poverty in Early Modern Europe.” Economic History Review 56 (August): 403–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ames, Kenneth. 1994. “The Northwest Coast: Complex Hunter-Gatherers, Ecology, and Social Evolution.Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 209–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anderson, Perry 1974. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: Verso.Google Scholar
Andersen, Thomas Barnebeck, Jensen, Peter Sandholt, and Skovsgaard, Christian Stejner. 2013. “The Heavy Plough and the Agricultural Revolution in Medieval Europe.” Discussion Paper. Department of Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark.Google Scholar
Angel, J. L.1984. Health as a Crucial Factor in the Changes from Hunting to Developed Farming in the Mediterranean.” In Paleopathology at the Origins of Agriculture, eds. Cohen, M. N. and Armelagos, G. J.. New York: Academic Press, 5174.Google Scholar
Anthony, David W. 1986. “The ‘Kurgan Culture,’ Indo-European Origins, and the Domestication of the Horse: A Reconsideration.” Current Anthropology 27 (August): 291304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anthony, David W. 2010. The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ashraf, Q. and Galor, O. 2013. “The Out of Africa Hypothesis, Human Genetic Diversity, and Comparative Economic Development.” American Economic Review 103 (1): 146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Aoyama, Kazuo. 2005. “Classic Maya Warfare and Weapons: Spear, Dart, and Arrow Points of Aguateca and Copan.” Ancient Mesoamerica 16: 291304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Atkinson, A. B. 1999. The Economic Consequences of Rolling Back the Welfare State. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Atkinson, A. B., and Bourguignon, F.. 2000. “Introduction: Income Distribution and Economics.” In Handbook of Income Distribution, eds. Atkinson, A. B. and Bourguignon, F.. New York: Elsevier, 158.Google Scholar
Bachrach, Bernard. 2001. Early Carolingian Warfare: Prelude to Empire. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Baten, Joerg. 2000. “Economic Development and the Distribution of Nutritional Resources in Bavaria, 1797–1839: An Anthropometric Study.” Journal of Income Distribution 9 (1): 89106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baten, Joerg, and Blum, Matthias. 2012. “Growing Tall but Unequal: New Findings and New Background Evidence on Anthropometric Welfare in 156 Countries, 1810–1989.” Economic History of Developing Regions 27 (suppl): 6685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Baten, Jörg, and Fraunholz, Uwe. 2004. “Did Partial Globalization Increase Inequality? The Case of the Latin American Periphery, 1950–2000.” CESifo Economic Studies 50 (1): 4584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beramendi, Pablo, and Rueda, David. 2012. “Inequality and Labor Market Coordination in the Early 20th Century.” Duke University. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
Blaffer-Hrdy, Sarah. 1999. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
Bogin, Barry. 2001. The Growth of Humanity. New York: Wiley-Liss.Google Scholar
Boix, Carles. 2010. “Origins and Persistence of Inequality.” Annual Review of Political Science 13: 489516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boix, Carles. N.d. Political Order and Inequality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Forthcoming.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Case, Anne, and Paxson, Chris. 2008. “Stature and Status: Height, Ability, and Labor Market Outcomes.” Journal of Political Economy 166 (3): 499532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Deaton, Angus. 2007. “Height, Health, and Development.” PNAS 104 (33): 13232–7.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Domar, Evsey. 1970. “The Causes of Slavery or Serfdom: A Hypothesis.” Journal of Economic History 30 (1): 1832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Drummond, Jack C., and Wilbraham, Anne. 1991. The Englishman's Food: Five Centuries of English Diet. London: Pimlico.Google Scholar
Duby, G. 1968. Rural Economy and Country Life in the Medieval West. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Engerman, Stanley L., and Sokoloff, Kenneth L. 2002. “Factor Endowments, Inequality, and Paths of Development among New World Economies.” Economia 3: 41102.Google Scholar
Esping-Andersen, Gosta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Eveleth, P. B., and Tanner, J. M.. 1976. Worldwide Variations in Human Growth. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Ewers, John C. 1955. The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture. Bulletin 159. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology.Google Scholar
Floud, Roderick, Wachter, Kenneth W., and Gregory, Annabel. 1990. Height, Health and History: Nutritional Status in the United Kingdom, 1750–1980. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fogel, Robert W. 1994. “Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy.” NBER Working Paper No. 4638.Google Scholar
Fogel, Robert W., Engerman, Stanley L., Floud, Roderick, Friedman, Gerald, Margo, Robert A., Sokoloff, Kenneth, et al. 1983. “Secular Changes in American and British Stature and Nutrition.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 14 (Autumn): 445–81.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Friedman, Gerald C. 1982. “The Heights of Slaves in Trinidad.” Social Science History 6 (Autumn): 482515.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gat, Azar. 1999. “The Pattern of Fighting in Simple, Small-scale, Prestate Societies.” Journal of Anthropological Research 55 (Winter): 563583.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldsmith, Richard W. 1987. Premodern Financial Systems. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goodman, A. H., Thomas, R. B., Swedlund, A. C., and Armelagos, G. J.. 1988. “Biocultural Perspectives on Stress in Prehistoric, Historical and Contemporary Population Research.” Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 31: 169202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goody, Jack. 1971. Technology, Tradition and State in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Gould, Stephen J. 1981. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Gregson, Ronald E. 1969. “The Influence of the Horse on Indian Cultures of Lowland South America.” Ethnohistory 16 (Winter): 3350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guntupalli, Aravinda M., and Baten, Joerg. 2006. “The Development and Inequality of Heights in North, West, and East India 1915–1944.” Explorations in Economic History 43 (4): 578608.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gurven, Michael, Borgerhoff-Mulder, Monique, Hooper, Paul L., Kaplan, Hillard, Quinlan, Robert, Sear, Rebecca, Schniter, Eric, et al. 2010. “Domestication Alone Does Not Lead to Inequality.” Current Anthropology 51 (February): 4964.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haldon, John F. 1999. Warfare, State, and Society in the Byzantine World, 565–1204. London: UCL Press.Google Scholar
Haviland, W. A. 1967. “Stature at Tikal, Guatemala: Implications for Classic Maya Demography and Social Organization.” American Antiquity 32: 316–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hawkes, K. 2000. “Hunting and the Evolution of Egalitarian Societies: Lessons from the Hadza.” In Diehl, Michael, ed., Hierarchies in Action: Cui Bono?, ed. Michael Diehl. Occasional Paper 27. Carbondale, IL: Center for Archaeological Investigations, 5983.Google Scholar
Hayden, Brian. 1981. “Research and Development in the Stone Age: Technological Transitions among Hunter-Gatherers.” Current Anthropology 22 (5): 519–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Headland, Thomas N. and Reid, Lawrence A.. 1989. Hunter-Gatherers and Their Neighbors from Prehistory to the Present. Current Anthropology 30 (February): 4351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hensley, Wayne E. 1993. “Height as a Measure of Success in Academe.” Psychology: A Journal of Human Behavior, 30 (1): 4046.Google Scholar
Hill, Kim, and Magdalena Hurtado, A.. 1989. “Hunter-Gatherers of the New World.” American Scientist 77: 437–43.Google Scholar
Hiramoto, Yoshisuke. 1972. “Secular Change of Estimated Stature of Japanese in Kanto District from the Prehistoric Age to the Present Day.” Journal of the Anthropological Society of Japan 80 (3): 221–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hirschman, A. O. 1981. Essays in Trespassing: Economics to Politics and Beyond. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hoffman, Philip T., Jacks, David S., Levin, Patricia A., and Lindert, Peter H.. 2002. “Real Inequality in Europe since 1500.” Journal of Economic History 62 (June): 322–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jantz, R. L. 1995. “Franz Boas and Native American Biological Variability.” Human Biology 67 (June): 343–53.Google Scholar
Jantz, R. L., Hunt, D. R., Falsetti, A. B., and Key, P. J.. 1992. “Variation among North Amerindians: Analysis of Boas's Anthropometric Data.” Human Biology 64 (June): 435–61.Google ScholarPubMed
Kahhat, J. 2007. “Markets and the Dynamics of Inequality.” Prepared for “Markets, the State and the Dynamics of Inequality: How to Advance Inclusive Growth.” New York: United Nations Development Program.Google Scholar
Kantorowicz, Ernst. 1956. “Byzantine Empire.” In Feudalism in History, ed. Coulborn, Rushton. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 151–66.Google Scholar
Keegan, John. 2004. A History of Warfare. London: Vintage.Google ScholarPubMed
Keeley, Lawrence H. 1988. “Hunter-Gatherer Economic Complexity and ‘Population Pressure’: A Cross-Cultural Analysis.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 7 (December): 373411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kelly, R. 1995. The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
Kelly, R. 2000. Warless Societies and the Origin of War. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Knauft, Bruce M. 1987. “Reconsidering Violence in Simple Human Societies: Homicide among the Gebusi of New Guinea.” Current Anthropology 55 (August–October): 457–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Komlos, John. 1989. Nutrition and Economic Development in the Eighteenth-Century Habsburg Monarchy: An Anthropometric History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krogman, W. M., and İşcan, M. Y. a.. 1986. The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine. Springfield, IL: C. C. Thomas.Google ScholarPubMed
Kuhn, Steven, and Stiner, Mary. 2006. “What's a Mother to Do?Current Anthropology 47 (6): 953–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuznets, S. 1955. “Economic Growth and Income Inequality.” American Economic Review 45: 128.Google Scholar
Ladd, E. J. 1979. “Zuni Social and Political Organization.” In Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 9: Southwest, ed. Ortiz, A.. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 482–91.Google Scholar
Law, Robin. 1975. A West African Cavalry State: The Kingdom of Oyo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Law, Robin. 1976. “Horses, Firearms, and Political Power in Pre-Colonial West Africa.” Past & Present 72 (August): 112–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lee, Richard Borshay. 1984. The Dobe !Kung. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
Levtzion, Nehemia. 1977. “The Western Maghrib and Sudan.” In The Cambridge History of Africa Volume 3: From c.1050 to c.1600, ed. Oliver, Roland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 331462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lindert, Peter. H. 2000. “Three Centuries of Inequality in Britain and America.” Handbook of Income Distribution 1: 167216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lloyd, P. C. 1971. The Political Development of Yoruba Kingdoms in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. London: Royal Anthropological Institute.Google Scholar
Magnusson, Patrik K. E., Rasmussen, Finn, and Gyllensten, Ulf B.. 2006. “Height at Age 18 Years Is a Strong Predictor of Attained Education Later in Life: Cohort Study of over 950000 Swedish Men.” International Journal of Epidemiology 35 (January): 658–63.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Masali, M. 1972. “Body Size and Proportions as Revealed by Bone Measurements and Their Meaning in Environmental Adaptation.” Journal of Human Evolution 1 (March): 187–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Matsushita, Takayuki. 1994. Nihonjin to Yayoijin (The Japanese and the Yayoi People). Tokyo: Shodensha.Google Scholar
Mayshar, Joram, Moav, Omer, and Neeman, Zvika. 2011. “Transparency, Appropriability, and the Early State.” ISET Working Paper Series 02–11.Google Scholar
McNeil, William H. 1981. The Pursuit of Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Milanovic, Branko, Lindert, Peter H., and Williamson, Jeffrey G.. 2011. “Pre-Industrial Inequality.” Economic Journal 121 (March): 255–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mitchell, D. 1985. “A Demographic Profile of Northwest Coast Slavery.” In Status, Structure and Stratification: Current Archaeological Reconstructions, eds. Thompson, M., Garcia, M. T., and Kense, F. J.. Calgary: Archaeological Association of the University of Calgary, 227–36.Google Scholar
Mishkin, B. 1992. Rank and Warfare among the Plains Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.Google Scholar
Moradi, Alexander, and Baten, Joerg. 2005. “Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa: New Data and New Insights from Anthropometric Estimates.” World Development 33 (8): 1233–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nakahashi, Takahiro, and Nagai, Masafumi. 1985. “Jinkotsu (Human Bones).” In Yoshimohama-iseki (Yoshimohama Site). Yamaguchi, Japan: Shimonoseki-shi Municipal Board of Education, ch. 5.Google Scholar
Nakahishi, Yasuto, and Nethery, Vincent. 1999. “Anthropometric Comparison between Japanese and Caucasian American Male University Students.” Applied Human Science 18 (1): 911.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
North, D. C., and Thomas, R. P.. 1973. The Rise of the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, Mancur. 1993. “Dictatorship, Democracy, and Development.” American Political Science Review 87 (3): 567–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, Mancur. 2000. Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and Capitalist Dictatorships. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Oman, Charles. 1885. The Art of War in the Middle Ages: 378–1515. Oxford: B.H. Blackwell.Google Scholar
Ortman, Donald. 1979. Data from OTEC Site Characterization Studies in the Gulf of Mexico and Tropical South Atlantic. Boulder, CO: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Research Laboratories.Google Scholar
Ortner, Donald J., and Theobald, Gretchen. 2000. “Paleopathological Evidence of Malnutrition.” In Cambridge World History of Food, Vol. 1, eds. Kiple, Kenneth F. and Ornelas, Kriemhild Coneè. New York: Cambridge University Press, ch. 2.Google Scholar
Persson, Torsten, and Tabellini, Guido. 1994. “Is Inequality Harmful for Growth?American Economic Review 84 (3): 600–21.Google Scholar
Ramachandran, S., Deshpande, O., Roseman, C. C., Rosenberg, N. A., Feldman, M. W., & Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. 2005. “Support from the Relationship of Genetic and Geographic Distance in Human Populations for a Serial Founder Effect Originating in Africa.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102 (44), 1594215947.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rogowski, Ronald, and McRae, Duncan. 2008. “Inequality and Institutions: What Theory, History and (Some) Data Tell Us.” In Democracy, Inequality and Representation, eds. Beramendi, P. and Anderson, Christopher J.. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 354–86.Google Scholar
Scott, Susan, and Duncan, Christopher J.. 2000. Demography and Nutrition: Evidence from Historical and Contemporary Populations. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Silventoinen, Karri. 2003. “Determinants of Variation in Adult Body Height.” Journal of Biosocial Science 35 (April): 263–85.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Smith, G. Elliott. 1912. The Royal Mummies. London: Duckworth Publishing.Google Scholar
Smith, Eric Alden, Mulder, Monique Borgerhoff, Bowles, Samuel, Gurven, Michael, Hertz, Tom, and Shenk, Mary K.. 2010. “Production Systems, Inheritance, and Inequality in Premodern Societies: Conclusions.” Current Anthropology 51 (February): 8594.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sokoloff, Kenneth, and Engerman, Stanley. 2000. “Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 14 (3): 217–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steckel, Richard H. 1995. “Stature and the Standard of Living.” Journal of Economic Literature. 33 (4): 1903–40.Google Scholar
Steckel, Richard H. 2009. “Heights and Human Welfare: Recent Developments and New Directions.” Explorations in Economic History 46 (1): 123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steckel, Richard H., and Haurin, Donald R.. 1994. “Health and Nutrition in the American Midwest: Evidence from the Height of Ohio National Guardsmen, 1850–1910.” In Stature, Living Standards, and Economic Development, ed. Komlos, John. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 117–28.Google Scholar
Steckel, Richard H., and Prince, Joseph M.. 2001. “Tallest in the World: Native Americans of the Great Plains in the Nineteenth Century.” American Economic Review 91 (March): 287–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Steckel, Richard H., and Rose, Mark, eds. 2002. The Backbone of History: Health and Nutrition in the Western Hemisphere. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Strauss, J. and Thomas, D. 1998. “Health, Nutrition, and Economic Development.” Journal of Economic Literature 36 (2): 766817.Google Scholar
Sturtevant, William C., and Trigger, Bruce, eds. Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
Sunder, M. 2003. “The Making of Giants in a Welfare State: The Norwegian Experience in the 20th Century.” Economics & Human Biology 1: 267–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Suzuki, Hisashi. 1985. Hone wa Kataru: Tokugawa-shogun, Daimyo-ke no Hitobito (What Bones Reveal: Tokugawa Shoguns and People of Daimyo Families). Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.Google Scholar
van Zanden, Jan Luiten, Baten, Jörg, Földvari, Péter, and van Leeuwen, Bas. 2013. “The Changing Shape of Global Inequality 1820–2000. Exploring a New Dataset.” Review of Income and Wealth. doi: 10.1111/roiw.12014.Google Scholar
Verbruggen, J. F. 1997 . The Art of Warfare in Western Europe during the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340. 2nd ed. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press.Google Scholar
Wallerstein, Michael. 1999. “Wage-Setting Institutions and Pay Inequality in Advanced Industrial Societies.” American Journal of Political Science 43 (July): 649–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Webster, David (2000). “The Not So Peaceful Civilization: A Review of May War.” Journal of World Prehistory 14 (March): 65119.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Williamson, Jeffrey G. 1991. Inequality, Poverty, and History. New York: Blackwell.Google Scholar
Williamson, Jeffrey G., and Lindert, P. H.. 1980. American Inequality: A Macroeconomic History. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Wilson, Paul R. 1968. “Perceptual Distortion of Height as a Function of Ascribed Academic Status.” Journal of Social Psychology 74 (February): 97102.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
White, Lynn Townsend. 1962. Medieval Technology and Social Change. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
Yadin, Y. 1963. The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands: In the Light of Archaeological Study. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
Yamada, Yasuhiro. 1997. “Doigahama-shudan no Shakai-kouzou (Social Structure of the Doigahama People).” In Senshigaku, Koukogaku Ronkyu II (Studies in Prehistory and Archeology II), Kumamoto Daigaku Bungakubu Koukogaku Kenkyushitsu Sousetsu 25-shunen-kinen Ronbunshu. Kumamoto, Japan: Kumamoto University, 4170.Google Scholar
Yamada, Yasuhiro. 2003. “Toui-houkou wa Shakai-soshiki wo Arawasunoka: Jomon-jidai no Jinkotsu-shutsudorei ni Yoru Saikentou (Do Burial Directions of Heads Represent Social Organization?: A Reexamination Based on Jomon Human Bones).” Ritsumeikan Daigaku Koukogaku Ronshu (Archeological Studies by Ritsumeikan University) 3 (May): 341–66.Google Scholar
Williamson, Jeffrey G., Lindert, Peter H., and Institute for Research on Poverty. 1980. American Inequality: A Macroeconomic History, Vol. 53. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar