The Social status influences human growth

A summary and analysis of historical data from German school girls in 1914 with comparison to modern references

Keywords: social status, historic data, community effect, strategic growth adjustment


Background: In the animal kingdom body size is often linked to dominance and subsequently the standing in social hierarchy. Similarly, human growth has been associated and linked to socioeconomic factors, including one’s social status. This has already been proposed in the early 1900s where data on young German school girls from different social strata have been compared.

Objectives: This paper aims to summarize and analyze these results and make them accessible for non-German speakers. The full English translation of the historic work of Dikanski (Dikanski, 1914) is available as a supplement. Further, this work aims to compare the historical data with modern references, to test three hypotheses: (1) higher social class is positively associated with body height and weight, (2) affluent people from the used historical data match modern references in weight and height and (3) weight distributions are skewed in both modern and historical populations.

Methods: Comparison of historical data from 1914 with WHO and 1980s German data. The data sets, for both body weight and height for 6.0- and 7.0-year-old girls, were fitted onto centile curves and quantile correlation coefficients were calculated.

Results: In historical data social status is positively associated with body height and weight while both are also normally distributed, which marks a significant difference to modern references.

Conclusion: Social status is positively associated with height, signaling social dominance, making children of affluent classes taller. Children from the historical data do not reach the average height of modern children, even under the best environmental conditions. The children of the upper social class were not skewed in weight distribution, although they had the means to become as obese as modern children.


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How to Cite
Wilke, L., Boeker, S., Mumm, R., & Groth, D. (2022). The Social status influences human growth: A summary and analysis of historical data from German school girls in 1914 with comparison to modern references. Human Biology and Public Health, 3.