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Bones of Contention: The Political Economy of Height Inequality


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.

Corresponding author
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 (
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