Among other factors, height is an indicator of the quality of life of a population. The differences become more evident when contrasting rich and poor urban sectors within the same urban area. That is why the phrase arises: “height is the mirror of the condition of society”.
According to a study published in Science Direct, a team of researchers explored the individual data from the national health surveys of the Spanish Ministry of Health and obtained an overwhelming result: among men born in the 1990s, university students measure three centimeters more than those who only have primary studies. In women, that difference is close to two centimeters.
The team of sociologist Antonio David Cámara from the University of Jaén immersed themselves in nine national surveys and two similar European ones carried out in 1987 by some 74,000 people who were then between 23 and 47 years old. And what they did was they grouped people according to their birth and educational level, a proxy indicator of socioeconomic status.
The results show that society, in general, has improved: men born in the 1980s are up to five centimeters taller than those born in the 40s, and two centimeters in the case of women. Cámara states that “women are biologically better-equipped creatures, more resilient”, so the adverse conditions of the first half of the 20th century affected men’s height more.
“Three centimeters is the brutal average,” warns Cámara. He also points out that the average height of men in their thirties today is 176 centimeters, a figure that, subtracting three centimeters, the result is what those born in the 60s measure.
For his part, the historian José Miguel Martínez Carrión, a pioneer in the study of height in Spain, underlines the intense growth from the 1950s as a result of the brutal socioeconomic changes. And he recalls, in the same way, that in France the differences in height between people with different levels of education are even greater.
According to a study by the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, the differences between 1970 and 2003 remained constant: five centimeters in men and around three centimeters in women.
The study highlights that height, after sustained growth, is “stagnant and even decreased” in those born in the 90s: at least the Spanish have stopped growing.
According to the Dutch biologist Gert Stulp of the University of Groningen, “we see this flattening in the evolution of height throughout Europe”, referring to the similar case of the Netherlands, the tallest country on the planet. Stulp attributes this to the fact that the environment is not really improving, as are diets and a less healthy lifestyle: “We are believing in width instead of in height”, he points out.