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Stand tall if you are living in a democracy

Men growing up in a democracy are likely to be taller than those who spend the first 20 years of their lives in a communist regime.

The link between democracy and stature is related to good nutrition, high disposable income and a life free of social and political constraints, according to new findings from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In a study of Czech Republic and Slovakian residents since the dissolution of the communist regime in 1989, LSE political economist Dr Joan Costa-i-Font and colleague Dr Lucia Kossarova found clear height differences between the two regimes.

For Slovaks, those born under democracy as opposed to communism are on average 1.5cm taller, gaining about 0.28cm for each year spent in a democratic society. Czechs gained about 0.14cm each year in comparison.

The poorer, less educated Slovaks appear to have benefitted more from democracy, Dr Costa-i-Font’s study shows.

Unusually, only men’s height has increased since the end of the communist regime. Women’s stature has not changed in either Slovakia or the Czech Republic, possibly reflecting little improvement in their lives under a democratic society.

Previous experiments in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall endorse these latest findings.

“West Germans were found to be taller than East Germans by approximately 1cm,” Dr Costa-i-Font says. “More importantly, such a gap appears to have widened only after the Berlin Wall was built in 1961. Since unification there has been a convergence of heights – among men, in any case.”

Socio-political and economic shocks such as the meltdown of the Soviet bloc removed both the barriers to access to nutrition and, more deeply, the institutional settings that constrain people’s lives, Dr Costa-i-Font adds.

Almost 3000 residents from the Czech Republic and Slovakia were interviewed for the LSE study, comparing birth dates with stature and also establishing links between income and height.

The results show that residents born before 1973 are significantly shorter than those born between 1974 and 1985. There is also up to a 2cm height difference between the richest and poorest.

Notes for Editors

For more information contact:

  • Dr Joan Costa-i-Font on +44 (0)20 7955 6484; 07960 492 690 (mobile) or  j.costa-font@lse.ac.uk;
  • Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office, +44 (0)20 7955 7440 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

“Anthropometric Dividends of Czechoslovakia’s break up” by Dr Joan Costa-i-Font and Dr Lucia Kossarova, is available at:

http://www.lse.ac.uk/government/research/resgroups/PSPE/pdf/2014/2014-PSPE-working-paper-4-Anthropometric-Dividends-of-Czechoslovakias-Break-Up.pdf

Dr Joan Costa-i-Font is a reader in Political Economy in LSE’s Department of Social Policy and European Institute.  He has held research appointments at Harvard University, Oxford University, Boston College and the University of Munich.

Dr Lucia Kossarova is a Senior Research Analyst at the Nuffield Trust.  Previously she worked at LSE Health as a Teaching Fellow in Health Economics and Assistant Editor for Eurohealth, as well as the World Bank in Washington, DC.

20 November 2014

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