Height, Health, and Inequality: The Distribution of Adult Heights in India

15 Pages Posted: 21 Jan 2008 Last revised: 12 Jan 2011

See all articles by Angus Deaton

Angus Deaton

Princeton University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: January 19, 2008


I explore the relationship between the distribution of adult heights and the distribution of income. It has previously been argued (a) that average adult height may depend negatively on income inequality; (b) that some measure of inequality in adult heights is informative about inequality in income; and (c) that differences in heights between groups are informative about the allocation of resources between the groups. I argue on theoretical grounds that, except in very special cases, height inequality is unlikely to indicate income inequality, but that (a) and (c) are plausible and worth serious investigation. I use data from the third round of India's National Fertility and Health survey to explore these issues. The most important findings concern sexual dimorphism in heights between adult Indian men and women. Consistent with improvements in material living conditions and in the epidemiological environment, both men and women are becoming taller over time, but the rate of increase is three times faster for men than for women, which is strongly suggestive of increasing relative discrimination against women in nutrition or healthcare. Sexual dimorphism is more marked in places where there is a high ratio of missing women which is consistent both with spatial differences in discrimination and with accounts in evolutionary biology of sexual dimorphism. I find no consistent relationship between either average heights or the inequality in heights and inequality in consumption.

Keywords: height, health, income, inequality, dimorphism, India

JEL Classification: D63, I12, I31, J71, O12, O15

Suggested Citation

Deaton, Angus S., Height, Health, and Inequality: The Distribution of Adult Heights in India (January 19, 2008). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1085880 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1085880

Angus S. Deaton (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-5967 (Phone)
609-258-5974 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.wws.princeton.edu/~deaton

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