Living Standards in Latin American History: Height, Welfare, and Development, 1750-2000

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Living Standards in Latin American History: Height, Welfare, and Development, 1750-2000
By
David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, 2010
350 pp. $29.95
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The average heights of most human populations are highly correlated with childhood nutrition. Building on this insight, a fascinating new field of study, anthropometric history, is demonstrating that extreme economic inequalities are reflected in the differing physical statures of social classes. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, well-fed European aristocrats towered over their undernourished peasants. This volume reveals that even today, a shockingly high percentage of impoverished Guatemalans suffer from stunted growth, whereas Mayan immigrant children living in California grow significantly taller -- suggesting that poverty, not genetics, is stunting their relatives back home. This innovative collection offers numerous surprises for conventional historians: in various periods when the urban poor were presumed to have suffered from economic austerity or authoritarian deprivation, for instance, anthropometry cannot find signs of worsening nutrition. The good news is that as a region, Latin America displays the lowest percentage of stunted growth in the developing world and has registered a dramatic drop, from 26 percent in 1980 to 13 percent in 2000.