Family structure and childhood anthropometry in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1918

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Concern with childhood nutrition prompted numerous surveys of children’s growth in the United States after 1870. The Children’s Bureau’s 1918 ‘Weighing and Measuring Test’ measured two million children to produce the first official American growth norms. Individual data for 14,000 children survives from the Saint Paul, Minnesota survey whose stature closely approximated national norms. As well as anthropometric details the survey recorded exact age, street address and full name. These variables allow linkage to the 1920 census to obtain demographic and socio-economic information. We matched 72% of children to census families creating a sample of nearly 10,000 children. Children in the entire survey (linked set) averaged 0.74 (0.72) standard deviations below modern World Health Organization height-for-age standards, and 0.48 (0.46) standard deviations below modern weight-for-age norms. Sibship size strongly influenced height-for-age, and had weaker influence on weight-for-age. Each additional child aged six or under reduced height-for-age scores by 0.07 standard deviations (95% confidence interval: –0.03, 0.11). Teenage siblings had little effect on height-for-age. Social class effects were substantial. Children of laborers averaged half a standard deviation shorter than children of professionals. Family structure and socio-economic status had compounding impacts on children’s stature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)258-290
Number of pages33
JournalHistory of the Family
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Jul 3 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [Grant No. 5R24HD041023]. Comments from participants at the Social Science History Association and Population Association of America conferences and several referees improved this paper. We thank the Minnesota Historical Society for access to the material on which this paper is based. Data entry and a significant amount of record linkage were carried out by 2014 and 2015 participants in the College of Liberal Arts? Freshmen Research and Creative Awards program. We thank Anna Keenan, Dean Allen, Hannah Mills, Katie O?Dowd, Kristy Wagner, Lia Von Huben, Madison Sherwood, Meredith Gingold, Sam Wolfe, Summer Careno and Tiffany Cheng. Additional research assistance was provided by Alex Schell, Anthony Gerbi, Emily Hoffman, Jennifer Chudoba, Megan Landberg, Michelle To, Scott Myran, and Shantal Stewart. We gratefully acknowledge support from the Minnesota Population Center (5R24HD041023), funded through grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Height
  • United States
  • anthropometric history
  • body mass index
  • children


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