Taller populations are typically richer populations, and taller individuals live longer and earn more. In consequence, adult height has recently become a focus in understanding the relationship between health and wealth. We investigate the childhood determinants of population adult height, focusing on the respective roles of income and of disease. Across a range of European countries and the United States, we find a strong inverse relationship between postneonatal (ages 1 month to 1 year) mortality, interpreted as a measure of the disease and nutritional burden in childhood, and the mean height of those children as adults. Consistent with these findings, we develop a model of selection and stunting in which the early-life burden of undernutrition and disease not only is responsible for mortality in childhood but also leaves a residue of long-term health risks for survivors, risks that express themselves in adult height and in late-life disease. The model predicts that at sufficiently high mortality levels, selection can dominate scarring, leaving a taller population of survivors. We find evidence of this effect in the poorest and highest-mortality countries of the world, supplementing recent findings on the effects of the Great Chinese Famine.

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