Adult body height as a mediator between early-life conditions and socio-economic status: the case of the Dutch Potato Famine, 1846–1847

Kristina Thompson, Maarten Lindeboom, France Portrait

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Adult body height appears to be a relatively accurate summary variable of early-life exposures’ influence on health, and may be a useful indicator of health in populations where more traditional health-related indicators are lacking. In particular, previous studies have shown a strong, positive relationship between environmental conditions in early life (particularly nutritional availability and the disease environment) and adult height. Research has also demonstrated positive associations between height and socioeconomic status. We therefore hypothesize that height mediates the relationship between early-life conditions and later-life socio-economic outcomes. We also hypothesize that the period of exposure in early life matters, and that conditions during pregnancy or the first years of life and/or the years during puberty have the largest effects on height and socio-economic status. To test these relationships, we use a sample of 1817 Dutch military conscripts who were exposed during early life to the Dutch Potato Famine (1846–1847). We conduct mediation analyses using structural equation modelling, and test seven different time periods in early-life. We use potato prices and real wages to proxy early-life environmental conditions, and occupational status (using the HISCAM scale) to proxy socioeconomic status. We find no evidence of mediation, partial or full, in any models. However, there are significant relationships between potato prices in adolescence, height and socio-economic status. To determine causality in these relationships, further research is needed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-114
Number of pages12
JournalEconomics and Human Biology
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Critical period
  • Early-life conditions
  • Famine
  • Height
  • Netherlands
  • Socio-economic status

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